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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Can you guess what book they're talking about?

That Tess Gerritsen post from a while back created a nice little discussion. People had interesting interpretations of (and issues) with her post, which I enjoyed hearing about. Right from the start, though, I was thinking about an off-shoot that wasn't really her topic. That is, what to make of reviews that attack works you love as if they had absolutely no value, quality, anything of interest to anybody? Every book that's been read by enough people has a few of these reviews on Amazon. (And they happen in paid-reviewer venues as well.) They're usually in the minority, sure, but they can feel like tiny worlds all to themselves, worlds in which the reviewer acknowledges no other perspective than his/her own (or dismisses those other perspectives as crap)...

Okay, so here a few quotes taken from one star Amazon reviews of four books. Each book gets a few choice critiques. See if you can guess the book by the quotes. They're all completely famous books. I'll name the books down at the end.

BOOK ONE:

"Clumsy writing, heavy-handed symbolism, self-righteousness, unbelievable dialogue, characters even a comic book would blush at. A book that insults the intelligence at every level."

"This was not a good book. The dialogue is stilted, the characters are caricatures, and everyone's always "hissing", "glaring", or "swallowing with a dry throat"... from where I stand, XXX is a poorly-written, lackluster, repetitive tale."

"This is a chore. I don't go for complex storylines and this book is the worst of the worst for those. I kept turning back to read over parts I had not taken in the first time, and in the end I gave up. I got to almost half-way, but I had lost interest way before then."

BOOK TWO:

"I was stupefied by its thick, plodding, contrived plot and bizarrely drawn characters. I do not understand why on earth this book has received the altitudinous praise it has received. I would not choose to teach it again and I would not recommend it. Maybe something else by XXX (who I feel is an "okay" writer, but certainly not an American great) would do."

"Awkward, boring, poorly written, nearly incomprehensible. I admit I did not get to page 75 - so maybe I shouldn't even write a review. But even getting to the point that I did, took extreme perseverance... honestly, I hated it - or the part that I did read... Didn't work for me at all. Don't bother with XXX."

"Simply Unreadable."

BOOK THREE:

"I admit I only read the first 120 pages. Reading the entire book is not my responsibility. Instead, it is the author's responsibility to maintain my interest."

"Completely disappointing. Read to learn how not to write."

"The reason I hate this book is because it sucked! I was astonished that it got so many great reviews. The plot was extremely slow and dull. And the whole story seemed unoriginal, like I've heard it many times before. The author has been praised for his amazing characters and personally I found them flat, boring and predictable. They seemed to have no original thoughts or feelings and some of their actions were unrealistic in human nature. I felt as if everyone had a blank expression on their face and they were speaking in monotone... I think this is a horrible author and you would do good to avoid his work."

BOOK FOUR:

"I really didn't like this book. Maybe it's because you need an imagination to read it, and mine isn't always there. It just seemed too unrealistic, and I just hated it."

"I found this book the most boring and monotonous book I've ever read... I literally had to slap myself a couple of times to stay awake and read this darn book. I just found this book disgusting boring, but that's just my opinion."

"To call this book an enduring American classic gives America a bad name."

"This book was a profound disappointment. It offered nothing in the way of plot, characters, or theme. It is a long, painstaking, tedious read. Don't bother with this book."

"Simply put: What a lousy novel! Maybe this was his first novel...I don't know. Anyways, I sure hope he doesn't plan on writing anything else. I read this book, initially, in the author's native bulgarian language...and it was even worse! The translator was probably trying to do us a favor by touching up this P.O.S. novel, but I think it would take an act of God to save this text..."

And just what books are these (so you know to avoid them)?

BOOK ONE: Dune, by Frank Herbert

BOOK TWO: Beloved, by Toni Morrison

BOOK THREE: A Game of Thrones, by George RR Martin

BOOK FOUR: Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Anyway, these are just a few I picked out. Any book that's been read by a lot of people ends up with reactions like these. (Go look up one of your favorites.) My books have gotten a few as well, so even little me hasn't dodged the angry reader's wrath. (Except for Walk Through Darkness, which has only Four and Five starred reviews. Go figure...)

Oh, by the way, I highly recommend all four books. They're totally different, but I think they're each awesome in their own way. Does that mean I think everyone will love (or even like) everything about them? No, but unlike these detractors, I'm not saying I have the intelligence and knowledge and insight to damn them for all possible readers. I'm just saying that at least this one person (me) found something wonderful in each of these. That's quite different than suggesting that because I hated something everyone else will/should also. I like that kinder and gentler approach...

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Over in Tobias Land

I was checking in with Tobias Buckell's site recently. There's always much of interest there, but two pieces caught my eye. One regards a proposition he got from someone wanting to sell him ideas: HERE. (I'm glad I don't get emails like that. Not yet, at least...)

The other was a survey of how many novels authors had written before selling one: HERE. I took the survey. (My answer, by the way, is two. I wrote two novels before Gabriel's Story. I'm very proud of them, and very happy for them to have long lives in suspended animation, never to see the light of day or the eyes of readers. They were my apprentice novels. I love 'em for that. But it's a personal thing, between me and them, ya' know?)

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Enough About Me, Already!

How about a proud parent moment instead? This drawing, of a warrior woman, is by my 8 year old daughter, Maya Calypso Durham. Is it just me, or is that pretty awesome? Take a look at it in detail...

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Jeff VanderMeer's List at Locus Online

Is it bad of me to keep posting best of the year lists - the ones that I'm on in particular? I can't help it. If I don't do it who's gonna? And the folks that put in the time to make the lists deserve to have people sent their direction, right? In that spirit...

The smooth, witty and insightful Jeff VanderMeer mentions Acacia (that's favorably, of course) in his Best of 2007 list. He wrote: "Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham brought a sturdy earnestness to heroic fantasy, wedded to intense characterization." That's a nice sentence. A sturdy one. That's it, really. That's my line, and I'm happy to have it. Do check out the post, though, if you want some more reading ideas. His list has some unique titles, not necessarily the standard fair.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

2007 Preliminary Nebula Ballot

Here's another one that went up a little while back. In case you missed it like I did...

2007 Preliminary Nebula Ballot

(Image of Jim Kelly at last year's awards, by the way. Just so you know what a winner looks like...)

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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Reading List!

Groovy. I just learned (thanks to Larry, my un-paid publicist), that Acacia: The War with the Mein made the American Library Association's "Reading List". Looks like they have a specific council of librarians that puts together a list of favorites by genre. Here's how they describe themselves: The Reading List Council seeks to highlight outstanding genre fiction that merits special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them. Nice.

Pat Rothfuss tops the list. Congrats, Pat. (Again...) The others in the fantasy section are as follows. And very good company they all are...

Bull, Emma. Territory. Tor, 2007.
Butcher, Jim. White Night. ROC/Penguin, 2007.
Carey, Jacqueline. Kushiel's Justice. Warner, 2007.
Carey, Mike. The Devil You Know. Warner, 2007.
Durham, David. Acacia. Doubleday, 2007.
Ferrari, Mark. Book of Joby. Tor, 2007.
Fforde, Jasper. First Among Sequels. Viking, 2007.
Kay, Guy Gavriel. Ysabel. ROC/Penguin, 2007.
Kiernan, Caitlin. Daughter of Hounds. Roc, 2007.
Lynch, Scott. Red Seas Under Red Skies. Bantam Spectra, 2007.
Moers, Walter. City of Dreaming Books. Overlook, 2007.
Monette, Sarah and Elizabeth Bear. A Companion to Wolves. Tor, 2007.
Novik, Naomi. Empire of Ivory. Del Rey, 2007.
Pratchett, Terry. Making Money. Harper, 2007.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic, 2007.
Tolkien, J. R. R. Children of Hurin. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.
Valente, Catherynne. In the Cities of Coin and Spice. Bantam Spectra, 2007.

You can view the list and all the other categories here.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tess Gerritsen on Reading as a Writer

On Sandra McDonald's Live Journal I came across a link to a blog entry by medical/crime/thriller writer Tess Gerritsen. She ponders why reader responses to books that she so loves can be so negative, and posits her take on it.

What she says makes plenty of sense to me, but a few folks who commented took a bit of offense at it.

What do you think?

You can read the post HERE.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NBCC Awards

I'm behind the times on this, but I just noticed the National Book Critics Circle announced their award finalists a little while back. The actual winners aren't announced until Mar 6th, at an event in New York.

I can't speak to about the titles they choose because I haven't read most of them, but I do watch these awards with interest. Some awards can be amazingly myopic year after year, seemingly nominating from a tiny pool of possibles, and generally awarding writers that bare a lot of similarities with the judges.... I don't really feel that way about the NBCC Award, though. They seem more inclined to read widely and inclusively (which means, to me, not that they award books without merit but that they take the time to actually read a wider range of books in the first place, so their choices don't end up looking exactly like some other awards).

Their fiction list is a pretty diverse bunch:

Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games, HarperCollins
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Riverhead
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men, Dial Press
Joyce Carol OatesThe Gravedigger's Daughter, Ecco
Marianne Wiggins, The Shadow Catcher, S. & S.

You can see the entire list at the Critical Mass Blog, which is HERE.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

A little bit more on last year...

Very pleased to learn (thanks, Larry) that Acacia: The War with the Mein has made Greg L. Johnson's editors list: The SF Site: Best of 2007. I'm in the mix with titles by Ian McDonald, Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Morgan, Nalo Hopkinson, and Kay Kenyon - among others. It's a lovely list.

And I've received some love from the other side of Atlantic. On the French site, Elbakin.net, Gillossen has included Acacia as one of last year's top titles: Le Top 10 Fantasy 2007 Pour Elbakin.net. (This is for the English edition, by the way. The French one isn't out yet.) The review of the book is HERE, if you read French.

Thank you both.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Alex Espinoza and Daniel Alarcón in BOMB

Bomb Magazine. Terribly cool. I remember getting Bomb (not bombed, although I remember some of that, too) when I was an aspiring undergraduate writer. Loved it, wanted some of that urban hipness myself. It's been a while, but I spent a good deal of time aspiring to find a way into their pages. Never happened, though.

But I'm glad to say a friend of mine did make it in. Alex Espinoza, a colleague of mine here at Cal State Fresno, is featured in an interview with Daniel Alarcon, conducted by by Gabriela Jauregui. They're both accomplished and up and coming authors, and they both have a lot of interesting stuff to say about being writers, being American writers, Latino writers, etc. Check it out HERE!

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Maybe Not Sooo Much of a Fixation...

I think my fixation with Amazon.de has already started to wear off. I'm not convinced I'll glean much useful information from it. Actually, I've noticed that some things have changed already. They had the pub date as January before, but now it's changed to February. That makes more sense, as that's what it says on the Blanvalet catalog. Anyway, I won't let it be the time killer it might have become.

What's quite cool, though, is that the interaction I've had with TD because of that last post has lead me to some interesting information about the German edition. Now, I can't confirm that this is a definite (just because numbers rarely are in publishing), but it looks like Blanvalet has announced a 50,000 print run of Acacia: The War with the Mein! Awesome. That's only happened once before, with the Italian paperback of Pride of Carthage. They've got my US publisher beat by a goodly bit! What's that mean, I wonder?

Anyway, when I looked for the catalog that TD directed me to I didn't find it initially. First, I found one that features Acacia. It's a lovely catalog, especially as the cover art is from my book! It doesn't say Acacia on the cover, but it's my image. And then at the very end of the catalog there's a full page spread on the book. Very nice. If you'd like to see the catalog you can click BLANVALET. I think that'll bring up the pdf...

But then I finally located the other catalog. It's HERE.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Fantasy Book Critic's 2007 Review/2008 Preview: A Writer's Perspective

Just a quick mention that Robert at Fantasy Book Critic has put together an incredibly comprehensive collection of responses from tons of writers. They talked about favorite books from last year, ones they're looking forward to for next year, and about what's forthcoming. It's really a long-ass post, but quite interesting. Check it out here.

By the way, Kate Elliott and Tobias Buckell were kind enough to list Acacia: The War with the Mein as one of their favorites. Yeah for them!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

New Fixation

As of yesterday I got a new fixation. This is not a good thing, but it's hard to resist...

The German version of Acacia has just gone on sale! I'm very pleased. I've been looking forward to this one for a long time, which may be part of why I'm inclined to pay more attention than usual. In the past, I never had much of an idea how the foreign editions were selling because I couldn't access the figures on line. (And, no, my foreign publishers aren't constantly sending me figures. My US publishers aren't constantly sending me figures, for that matter...) So it was just something that sort of happened out there in the unknown. (I did follow Pride of Carthage in the UK, but that's different. Same language and stuff, you know.)

Okay, but now there's Amazon.de, the German Amazon.com. Oh, curse it! In the past 24 hours I've become just as fixated on it as I once was on the US version! There's good news and bad news because of this. The good news is that the book is selling. It's jumped around from 1k to 3k to 6k and back again. That would be quite good on the US site, although I've no idea what that means in actual sales in Germany. But in general terms it's still pretty good. It certainly means that people are buying the thing. (Magic, that...)

The bad things, though... Well, mainly this new distraction is just that: a distraction. It's so, so easy to skive off writing just to check Amazon.de. You know, the figure changes every hour. I may check it five times during an hour, but, by god, that number is gonna change and I'll be there to spot it when it does!

This is not a healthy way to be. I'll work on it.

The other bummer is that... well, these people that speak another language (one that I can't read) can post reviews of my book. And what's happened? Well, some numbnuts gave me a two starred review! I've got no idea what his issues are, and I'm not bothered by them, actually. But the two stars just don't look good. (And I'm all about appearances.) So far there's only 1 Kundenrezension, which is why those two stars shine like a beacon alerting all of Germany to the tepid lameness of my novel...

Ah, so be it... It's not everyone that can say some German reader doesn't like their novel, right? By that accounting I'm a lucky guy. Plus, I've found that badly reviewed books often do surprisingly well... Am I on my way to German bestsellerdom? Time will tell... Oh, and if you'd like to see my German incarnation click here: AMAZON.DE!

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tananarive Due on Barack Obama

I met Tananarive Due a few years back when we both taught at a Hurston/Wright Writer's Week in Washington D.C.. Ever since I've received emails from her every now and then, letting me know what's up with her life and work. If you don't know Tananarive but have any interest in well-written horror/thriller/vampire/supernatural fiction you've got to check her out! Stephen King said, "I love this novel" of My Soul to Keep, and she's pretty much always received great reviews and endorsements from the likes of Octavia Butler and Peter Straub and Nalo Hopkinson. She's got quite a few books behind her now, and more are certainly coming, including Blood Colony, which is due out this summer. She writes with control and intelligence and a sense of history and cultural complexity, but she also takes care of the business of keeping a reader's pulse raised. Good stuff.

The email I got from her recently was about Barack Obama. I don't tend to talk politics much here, but I don't mind saying I'm looking forward to the next election. Barack Obama is part of that, although I feel there's a lot to be excited about. As a matter of fact, I recently sent in my voter registration to get all up to date here in California. I may even vote in the primary this time!

Anyway, Tananarive keeps a blog called Tananarive Due Reader's Circle, where she talks about plenty of things. Most recently, though, she wrote about hearing Barack Obama talk at her church awhile back. Tananarive was moved, and she doesn't mind saying so.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Normal School

Any up and coming writers reading this? Looking for publication, perhaps in a new, cool, progressively literary magazine? I've got just the ticket...
The Normal School is a new literary magazine. It's coming out of Cal State Fresno and is just gathering momentum for it's first issue. As I'm part of this program I know the editors of the magazine and can say unreservedly that they're a cool bunch, smart and open-minded. (By the way, I have a small editorial/advising role with the magazine, but I'm not the front line of editors or anything like that.)

You can read all about it at their nascent website. Just click on the Submission Guidelines and you'll get a feel for the unpretentious, sharp style of The Normal School. You'll note that they're generally interested in contemporary themes and styles, which will make some genre work a harder sell to them. But they're open-minded and willing to be won over by quality work. Can't get better than that, really!

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Maya's Art Show

Just wanted to alert interested parties that my daughter, Maya (8 years), has an awesome wee art show up on her blog, Maya Calypso Durham Talks. If you'd like to take a look, click it. She's good. She's really, really good.

Positive comments appreciated... (On her blog, that is.)

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

No Longer End of Year - How About Beginning of Year?

I'm sure you're all getting tired of end of the year lists. If you're kind enough to have been checking in here, you're also likely tired of me mentioning the ones that I made. (Sorry about that. Well, sort of...) So, let's leave that behind. Now on to the New Year Stuff!

Okay, this is sort of another list of sorts, but it's too cool not to mention. George RR Martin posted a Song of Ice and Fire update on January 1st. Most of it was about the status of A Dance with Dragons. (Short version: I'm working on it. Glad you want it, but you don't need to write me everyday saying so. I'll tell you when it's done. I promise!) After that he goes on to make a few suggestions for authors people should try in the meantime. Here's what he wrote:

And if it's more epic fantasy that you're yearning for, there's never been more good fantasies being published than there are right now. Try Daniel Abraham, try Scott Lynch, try S.L. Farrell and David Anthony Durham and Peter S. Beagle, try Lisa Tuttle and Robin Hobb and Ellen Kushner, or any of myriad other authors whose work is making fantasy such an exciting genre to be a part of...

Cool... Awesome company to be in, but especially awesome for the endorsement to come from GRRM. Yikes. I'm very pleased, indeed.

That little shout out was a pleasant addition to my rather good mood going into the new year. My family had been in a bit of a funk for... well, for about six months. This had a lot to do with the fact that Fresno - where we moved last summer so I could join the faculty of the MFA Program at Cal State - can be a difficult place for some people to adjust to. You can include us in those "some people". I won't go into details, but I do want to say that a great deal of our consternation cleared up on - voilà - January 1st! My wife and I woke up talking things through in a way that really made sense for a change, and our outlook improved by leaps and bounds. It's real, genuine, and it's going to help us make the best of living and teaching in Fresno. And I don't mean to suggest there's slim pickings. I've actually landed in a terrific job that rewards in a variety of ways. I'm feeling very, very positive about both arms of my career and about the health of my family. Nice way to start the year...

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