Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Get Your Very Own Evil Apple Variety: The Revenge

HEY THERE. I’ve had a few people ask if I could again do the “please make up an evil apple variety just for me and me alooooone” promotion when I sign books, and so, given that I’ve got the shiny scary paperback of Black River Orchard coming out in one month…

Well, I’d say it’s back.

This is the paperback:

It is, as the pretty graphic suggests, coming out 6/25.

All you gotta do is preorder a copy of it from my local bookstore, Doylestown Bookshop, by 6/24, and I will go in, sign your book, personalize it if you choose, and write inside of it a very special evil apple variety all for you. Then, I will also include a delightful evil apple sticker from the likes of Natalie Metzger, who is the very coolest. (Have you subscribed to her Patreon yet?)

Then, Doylestown Bookshop will send the book to you. In the mail, not by like, wyvern or cannon or whatever. You can get wyvern cannons out of your head, don’t you bring those parasocial expectations here.

So, again, preorder right here from Doylestown Bookshop.

Then I will sign it with an evil apple variety all your own. If you want it personalized too, please let them know in the notes when you order online, or when you call them, because that’s an option too. The phone. Because I guess people use those sometimes still? *shudder*

Anyway.

They’ll mail you the book.

And the sticker.

And you’ll get an evil heirloom apple variety.

AND you’ll have the cool new paperback edition of Black River Orchard, a book now nominated for both the Stoker Award and the Locus Award and also the Evil Apple Award which is an award I totally didn’t just make up, shut up your face.

DO THIS NOW AND APPEASE THE SINISTER FRUIT CULT

Okay, what else? Let’s talk about WHERE I SHALL BE

Will I be at Vortex Books and Comics — the new Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni joint?? — on July 27th, with poety horror fiend Jessica McHugh? I will! At 1pm! Till 4pm! There will be books but also, bring your own if you want. It’s gonna be a hoot.

I will sadly not be at the Stokers, because I’ll be shortly thereafter on my way to Portugal, and it’s in the wrong direction.

Monster Movie releases 9/10, and I expect to be doing some events around then, but don’t have those on the books yet. Pre-order now! And I might be at the Milford Readers & Writers Festival here in PA, too, end of that week — more as I know that, too.

I will be at the Rocky Mountain Writers Colorado Gold conference, which sounds in part like a weed strain, but isn’t, I don’t think. That’s 9/26-9/29, and they’ve entrusted me with a keynote speech, which is always a mistake, but they made it, and I think they’re even paying me for it, the silly people.

Then then thennnnn, I get to hang out with my BFFs Kevin Hearne and Delilah S. Dawson as we tour around — we’ll be hitting Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Minneapolis. I haven’t done a Midwest bit yet, so this’ll be very nice to hang out with folks there. More info as I have it, but do not forget that all three of our novella collections are back online, including the newest, Canines & Cocktails. Plus, they also have print-on-demand options, too — which Death & Honey and Three Slices have not had, as yet.

Finally, Grundy Library, in Bristol, PA, November 16, 1-3pm.

OKAY BYE.

Black River Orchard, Blackbirds, And Other Bits

AHOY, FRANDOS. A bit of news! A spot of news, perhaps, in the British parlance, or even a spotted dick of news? A bubbles-and-squeak of news? Whatever. Anyway, hey, look —

Black River Orchard is up for its second award! It’s on the final list for best horror at the Locus Awards, amidst truly spectacular company. Company so good it is 100% true to say, “It’s an honor to be nominated,” because it’s like getting to hang out at a cool party I wasn’t technically invited to. I mean, the list is: Tananarive Due, Grady Hendrix, Stephen Graham-Jones, T. Kingfisher, Victor LaValle, Alix Harrow, Isabel Cañas, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Elizabeth Hand? What is my life that I could be counted among them?

It’s wild. I’m thrilled. I’m very glad my strange APPLE CULT SUBURBAN FOLK HORROR novel was just too weird to die, and it’s out there in the world and people seem to be liking it. (I ask here that if you liked it, spread the word, if you please. Leave a review! Yell about it! Throw it at people!)

So, thanks, Locus, and readers.

Also–

Hey, if for some reason you haven’t checked out my very first published original novel, Blackbirds, now is your chance, as it is a mere $2.99 amongst your various electronic bookmongers. That book paid very little at the outset but just keeps on keeping on, and has ultimately been one of my most broad spectrum successful things. It launched as urban fantasy, which it really wasn’t, then was branded by its current publisher as supernatural suspense, which I suppose isn’t entirely inaccurate? I think of them as horror-crime novels, all six books. Though it’s also a weird love story? A horrifying one, but sweet, too? And it is a series, and it does complete, telling one entire tale of a woman who can see how you’re going to die when she touches you. Which makes her a less than pleasant person, and Miriam really goes through some shit, lemme tell you. Anyway! It’s not just the first book on sale, but also, the next two in the series — Mockingbird and The Cormorant, too. (In fact, I think Blackbirds is in Kindle Unlimited? Somehow? I dunno.)

Hopefully they continue to reach new readers and folks discover and rediscover these books because I love them very much. Miriam Black holds a special place in the dead bird’s nest that is my heart. (Incidentally, these books are also where I really started to take a liking to birds! I mean, I didn’t hate birds before, I wasn’t like, “Eat shit, titmouse,” giving every winged thing a swift clumsy high kick.)

BlackbirdsAmazon, Kobo, B&N, Apple, etc. Same for the next two books.

And if you like ’em, please yell about them, too. Go Tiktok them. Is that a verb? Tiktok? TIK THE TOKS. TOK THE TIKS. I am old now. Ashen and gray. Don’t you judge me.

Also if you’re looking for another great book to read, also currently on deep cut sale for $1.99 — Delilah S. Dawson’s The Violence. Was my favorite book of hers before Bloom, but then Bloom happened, because BLOOM.

What else is up? Ummm. I got edits back for my next adult novel, Staircase in the Woods, and that’s been consuming my time and my brain like a much nicer brain-worm than the one RFK Jr. had. And I turned in my now-accepted story for the End Of The World As We Know It anthology, the one that takes place in the world of Stephen King’s The Stand, one approved by THE KING HISOWNSELF, which is so neat I’m trying not to hyperventilate.

Did you read my interview in Writer’s Digest, by the way? Go for it, if not.

And in one month, Imma be in Portugal for a bit.

Just cruising around.

Eating egg tarts.

As one does.

(If you have Portugal recs, hit me with ’em.)

OKAY BE GOOD

BYE

Here’s a picture of a new fox in our yard, btw.

M.J. Kuhn: Five Things I Learned Writing Among Thieves

In just over a year’s time, Ryia Cautella has already earned herself a reputation as the quickest, deadliest blade in the dockside city of Carrowwick—not to mention the sharpest tongue. But Ryia Cautella is not her real name.

For the past six years, a deadly secret has kept her in hiding, running from town to town, doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the formidable Guildmaster—the sovereign ruler of the five kingdoms of Thamorr. No matter how far or fast she travels, his servants never fail to track her down…but even the most powerful men can be defeated.

Ryia’s path now leads directly into the heart of the Guildmaster’s stronghold, and against every instinct she has, it’s not a path she can walk alone. Forced to team up with a crew of assorted miscreants, smugglers, and thieves, Ryia must plan her next moves very carefully. If she succeeds, her freedom is won once and for all…but unfortunately for Ryia, her new allies are nearly as selfish as she is, and they all have plans of their own.


1. I Am AGGRESSIVELY a Plotter

Although AMONG THIEVES is my debut, it’s not the first novel I have written. It’s actually my fifth. But it IS the first novel I wrote well, and by that I mean, the first novel I wrote using a process that actually worked for me and my writer brain.

Everyone’s writer brain is different. A lot of writers like to find the story as they go, others have a general idea of the main plot points, but kind of play it by ear for the middle parts. It turns out I am basically a fucking robot, and I need… all the details.

I always outlined my projects (with the exception my two ill-advised attempts at wholesale pantsing, which each turned into about 40k words of nonsense that went nowhere. HOW DO SOME OF YOU WIZARDS WRITE LIKE THAT?!), but AMONG THIEVES was the first time I went fucking ham with it. I had a beat-by-beat outline in an Excel spreadsheet with columns for every plot, subplot, and character arc. I interviewed each of my characters with 50+ questions, and had a 30-page OneNote doc filled with research and worldbuilding info before I even put pen to page on the actual first draft.

And the result? The easiest, cleanest first draft I have ever written.

Did I still have to edit the shit out of it? Absolutely. But man oh man, the editing process was nowhere near as overwhelming and brutal as it had been for me in the past. AMONG THIEVES was the first time I felt like the writing process went smoothly for me, and I think it’s because I finally figured out a method that worked for me. That theory was further supported when I used the same process for the sequel, THICK AS THIEVES, and it went even smoother than the first time around.

I mean, who knows how long that method will work for this fickle writer brain of mine, but it’s working now, and that’s enough for me.

2. Too-Smart Characters Are All Fun and Games… Until You Have to Write One

Who doesn’t love a smart, terrifying villain? Okay, I guess a lot of people don’t, but I am obsessed with them. When Game of Thrones was big, I constantly got shit from my friends because Littlefinger was one of my favorite characters. Obviously, I know he was objectively The Worst, but I am just a sucker for the character who is always one step ahead of the game — the one who is pulling the strings.

… And then, with AMONG THIEVES, for the first time, with Callum Clem, I had to actually try to write one of those characters.

Now, I don’t think I’m an idiot, exactly… but a brilliant, devious, string-pulling genius, I am not.

It took a lot of trial and error, some INTENSE outlining, and a lot of research on con artists to get that brilliant asshole of a character coming across the way I wanted him to. Still, to this moment, a part of me is worried that I didn’t pull it off. Moral of the story here: writing characters who are smarter than you are is really really hard.

3. Patience is a Goddamned Virtue

Those who know me well, know that patience is far from my strong suit. Like, okay, for small things, I can be patient, like waiting for food at a restaurant or waiting in line or whatever… but when it comes to big things? Like, oh, I don’t know, realizing my lifelong dream and becoming a published author? I am constantly CHAMPING AT THE BIT. That’s why this lesson was by far the hardest one for me to learn.

I said earlier in this post that I wrote four full manuscripts before penning AMONG THIEVES. Of those, I only queried two with agents and the second one I queried actually ended up getting me signed! I signed with my first agent in 2017… but I had actually started writing AMONG THIEVES in 2016. As luck would have it, I found that agent right before deciding to shelve the project she ended up signing me for. I thought I was ready to query AMONG THIEVES back then… but I held off.

Instead, my agent and I edited the previous project for over a year, then went on submission with it. It never ended up selling, but I wouldn’t trade that year or so of my life for anything. That year of editing a project that will likely never see the light of day is why AMONG THIEVES exists in its current form.

While waiting for the parade of “no’s” on that other project to roll in, I took my editing pen back to AMONG THIEVES, using all the lessons I had learned during a year of working with a publishing industry professional on that other project. By the time that first agent of mine laid eyes on AMONG THIEVES, it was fifteen times stronger than it was when I thought it was ready to query back in 2017.

And I was rewarded for that initial patience. THIEVES sold after only two months on sub.

4. I Could Probably Con You Now… Just Kidding… Or Am I?

AMONG THIEVES, for those who don’t know, is a heist novel. All the characters are cons and, well, thieves. So, while preparing to write this novel, I read a lot of books about con men and art heists and highwaymen… you get the idea. I also read a book called “How To Cheat At Everything,” which literally gave step-by-step guides on how to run some common alleyway scams, like the game with the ball and the three cups, and instructions on how to stack a deck of cards, etc.

It was super interesting reading, honestly! At the very least, I can basically guarantee at this point, I’ll never get sucked into one of the scams I read about. At most… I could probably run a few of those scams myself now. So. Watch out.

5. How To Trust My Writer Gut

BREAKING NEWS: writing is difficult.

But honestly, being a newbie writer is especially difficult, because just as you’re trying to figure out your writing process, or your editing process, or trying to get your foot in the door with publishers or agents, you are bombarded with advice and edicts from other writers and authors. A lot of that advice is contradictory or just won’t work for you personally… so how in the hell are you supposed to know what to do?

Your brain isn’t going to know. But your writer gut will. At least, I’m learning that mine does. I guess to each their own, here!

This answer is a little bit of a cheat, because, yes, learning to trust my writer gut happened a bit through writing AMONG THIEVES and THICK AS THIEVES, but mostly this knowledge is something I’ve gained through the publishing process. When I was offered representation back in 2017, I actually received multiple offers. Of those offers, my first agent was by far the newest and youngest, with the smallest client list.

My brain tried to tell me to go with one of the “bigger” agents. But my writer gut knew they were the right agent for me, and they turned out to be the perfect agent to kick off my career with. Same for my second go-around in the query trenches, when I signed with my new agent, Laura, I felt in my gut that she was the perfect partner to help me in the next chapter of my career.

Through the editing and publication process for AMONG THIEVES, my writer gut strengthened, telling me what edits to accept and change without issue, what things to push back on and question, and what things to just slap a “STET for voice” on and stand my ground. It’s a difficult thing, navigating the world of writing and publishing, and I will not claim to be an expert — I am still a tiny baby in this industry. But I have faith that if I keep trusting my writer gut, it’ll keep pointing me in the right direction.


M.J. Kuhn is a fantasy writer by night and a mild-mannered marketing employee by day. She lives in the metro Detroit area with a very spoiled cat named Thorin Oakenshield. M. J. also cohosts the SFF Addicts podcast with Adrian M. Gibson.

MJ Kuhn: Website

Among Thieves: Bookshop | Amazon | B&N

Reviews For Books: WTAF

Reviews — meaning, in this case, usually a star-driven text-based evaluation of a book by an author — are curiously controversial. And understandably so! As authors, we don’t precisely know how to grapple with them, if we should look at them ever, if we should engage with them in any way, if we should ask for them, or pretend they don’t exist, or god, do they even matter at all? As readers, more questions ensue: where should they go, what do star ratings mean, who are they for, what is their ultimate purpose, and are they increasingly more noise and less signal?

I sometimes pop on THE OL’ SOCIALS to say something like, “hey, reviews are nice, so if you’ve read one of my books or any book and liked it, leave a review somewhere, and if you didn’t like it, still leave a review by yelling it into an old hollow stump where the goblinfolk will carry it to us on a palanquin made of gull bones.” And I did a similar one recently and a couple-few authors added that the reviews should be five-star reviews only, and — well, needless to say, that inspires some, um, conversation.

So it seems like it’s time for a (probably too long, sorry in advance) post about reviews from the POV of an author, though right up front let’s get ahead of this with a vital tl;dr —

In my opinion, reviews are for readers more than they are for writers, and in that wide open review space, you should feel free to type whatever you want, be as honest as you care to be, and give the book whatever star-rating you feel most soothes your wild soul. There are no rules, and you are under no obligation to a writer, to a publisher, to a bookstore, to anybody but yourself. I patently do not agree with the FIVE STARS OR HIT THE BRICKS attitude, because books aren’t restaurants on Yelp or a survey to tell the car dealership how your service experience was today. It’s not a Doordash or Uber rating. It’s a whole other thing. So, go with the book gods, write the review you wanna write, give it the grade you wanna give it, the end, goodbye.

With that said, let’s scratch the paint on this, see what’s underneath.

What are reviews?

In this context, reviews are an evaluation of a book left at a site like Amazon, Goodreads, Storygraph, B&N, or other sites designed for this kind of thing. Generally they are also governed by some kind of rating or ranking — stars, usually. We’re not talking about trade, media, or professional reviews (the kind you might see in Kirkus, the NYT, NPR, etc., sometimes written by another published author), nor are we talking about the marketing blurbs written by writers for other writers (“Tour de force! Magnum opus! Tingled my britches with its literary masterpieceyness!”). These are the kinds that an average reader can go and deposit online somewhere.

Certainly we’re also talking, to a lesser extent, about the reviews you might leave on TikTok, Threads, Bluesky, IG, Tumblr, Faceyplace, Grindr, Cubezorp, LinkedIn, MySpace, YellZone, or recorded upon the ancient internet papyrus known only as “blogs.”

Are reviews useful?

Sure! Probably! Not always! I don’t know!

Useful is a teleporting bullseye. I am quite certain that readers use reviews written by other readers to gauge whether or not they’re going to read a book or not. I’m sure some use it as their sole metric, whereas others incorporate it into an overall vibe, influencing them but not fully directing them.

Obviously, there are… *looks left, looks right* problems.

First, as authors, we’ve all gotten the reviews that are like, “this book arrived late, one-star,” or, “book smelled weird.”

Second, it’s easier to parse a book’s individual reviews when there are fewer of them. Once you get to a certain point — over a hundred, maybe, certainly over a thousand — it starts to be like sand on a beach. You cannot possibly pore over every grain and gain meaning, so they become more useful in aggregate — “Ah, this book has a 4.3 rating,” you say, and that means something to you specifically, though likely something slightly different to someone else. You might pierce the aggregate and look at a handful of reviews — either the ones that are algorithmically floated to the top, or maybe the ones that are most recent, or even a sampling by star rating.

Third, there is of course no meaningful standard to reviews — which is to say, I’ve read glowing reviews that present the book as flawless that give the book four stars. I’ve read very thoughtful, helpful three-star reviews. I’ve read one-star reviews that are manifestos against “woke.” I’ve read reviews that read like they hated the book, and then, ding, it’s a five-star review. Goodreads and Amazon each carry a different vibe to their reviews, too, with Amazon reviews at least seeming more generous, and GR reviewers being… less so, usually leaning a little lower, overall.

(This even persists in trade reviews. I’ve read middling-seeming reviews that gives the book a star — a star being like, a gold star, a THIS BOOK IS SPECIAL tag, essentially — and I’ve read glowing reviews that eschew the star entirely, for some random reason or another.)

The problem here is also the thing that makes this all so interesting: we’re all people and people who make art and who write reviews of art are all a glorious, wonderful mess with minimal constancy or unity to govern our whims. We’re bringing life experience and mood and baggage to the table. And maybe the book really did smell weird.

A fourth problem is that reviews and ratings sometimes aren’t even reviews or ratings. Review bombing is a thing — and Goodreads seems particularly vulnerable to this, as you can find even right now if you visit Cynthia Pelayo’s Instagram at present. Or, look no further than the Cait Corran thing.

It seemed to happen with my first Star Wars book, Aftermath — the book launched at midnight and by like 2AM, the book had already aggregated a steady flow of one-star reviews. (And here I note that people are free to not like that book for whatever reason, but of course a non-zero number of those reviews seemed particularly obsessed with the gay characters in the book. Though the early surge may have been attributable more to people cranky that this was New Star Wars and not EU Star Wars.)

Alternatively, some people rate books one-star on Goodreads just because they’re using them as a placeholder on their shelf.

Chaos reigns.

How should writers interact with reviews?

The easy and incomplete answer is, “They shouldn’t, and should run away, very fast, and if the review pursues them, kill it with fire.”

Again, we must assume reviews are by readers, for readers.

They are not for the writers.

Admittedly, some people want to tag writers in their bad reviews, which is fucked up, and don’t do that. I don’t email you to tell you I hate your shoes or that I think your child sucks. Don’t tag me to tell me how much you disliked my book. That’s just weird behavior. And some reviewers also think writers need the bad reviews as a “corrective,” which is double weird, because by the time you write that review, the book is done. You realize that, right? It’s over. We can’t do shit about it now. We probably can’t even change the next one because that one is done, too, just not on shelves yet. So, writers need to internalize that reviews are not for them, but some reviewers also need to recognize that the reviews are not really for the writers.

I’m happy to see positive reviews, because of course I am. I love to know something I wrote connected with someone. And I’m happy to share those kind of reviews if someone sends them, though I damn sure don’t seek them out. (I confess I usually look at my books’ reviews in the first week of release, then I nope the fuck out after that.)

Generally, the goal is for us to stay away from and out of reviews. It is not our world. We of course transgress, but we are needy magpies whose beaks long for shiny things to peck and to steal. It’s understandable, I hope.

(Also, this is my personal opinion, but authors should try to avoid negatively reviewing books by other authors. I recognize this is a controversial opinion and not universally shared, but to me it enters into “ethically questionable” territory while simultaneously being just a little bit gross. YMMV.)

Above all else, writers, leave the reviewers alone. This shouldn’t need to be said and the people who need to hear it won’t read it anyway, but hey, don’t insult or stalk or mess with reviewers ew fuck what is wrong with you.

Do reviews have a meaningful effect?

Which is to say, are they tied to anything? Do they do anything beyond existing individually or in aggregate for other readers? Or is it just the knob on the toaster that pretends it will make your toast darker?

Like, are they tied to any algorithms?

Do publishers care about them?

If a book gets X number of five-star reviews, do we get a plaque or a pony or even a digital high-five from a marketing robot? (We do not.)

When it comes to evaluating their precise effect, witness my hearty shrug.

This is, at this point, purely anecdotal — but once upon a time, I spoke to A Man From Amazon at one of the ComicCons. I wanna say NYCC but might’ve been SD, not sure. He was asking me questions about author experience with how Amazon handled books and also the back-end of reporting, and I had questions of my own and so forth and in the course of that conversation one of the things that came up was that, in essence, a book’s page was almost like a single social media item. Say, a tweet. (God I still can’t believe Elon Musk shitted up that crucial branding, but then again, he’s King Midas except more like King Shite-Ass, given how everything he touches turns to turds.) Anyway. A tweet or an IG post gains traction based on, essentially, how much interaction there is with it. Looking at it, commenting on it, favoriting it, resharing it, and so forth. Doesn’t matter if that interaction is positive or negative. It’s interaction, and it gooses the algorithm into paying attention to it. Amazon product pages were purportedly similar at that time, whereupon simply interacting with the page mattered for the algorithm. Leaving a review was one such interaction. Trick is, at the time, it didn’t really matter if the review was positive or negative — it was, in the ALGORITHM’S UNBLINKING EYES, a net positive, going in the + column that the product obviously had “attention.” And in the attention economy, that meant something, and so it was likely to juggle the page into algorithmic searches.

Is this still true? I have no idea. Was it ever true? I also have no idea. Certainly these days an individual book’s product page is a fucking nightmare at Amazon — it’s so much noise and so little signal. I have no idea how reviews factor into Amazon’s algo. I know Amazon’s own published books can end up having tens of thousands of reviews before the book even publishes given the way they give access to the books early to certain Amazon subscriber-types, and some programs, I believe, require a measure of reviewing to happen, so it ensures that more reviews mound on top of those books, which arguably generates more algorithmic attention — then again, I was once to understand that Amazon’s own published books already had a boost in the algorithm — a thumb on the scale. Again, who knows! This is all behind closed doors and the more quote unquote “AI” enters the equation, the more all of it is inscrutable even to the people who work there.

As to whether publishers care, again, no idea. My guess is that, similar to the algorithm, they care more when a book is getting no attention rather than when it’s getting some attention. And they probably care about review bombing campaigns, though whether or not they hold an author in any way accountable there I assume depends on the publisher. It’s also very possible that they have AI aggregators now to summarize for them massive swaths of review information. We’re seeing that at Amazon for other non-book products where all the reviews are summarized by the magic robot (who has no nuance and who probably just makes shit up, let’s be honest). It also wouldn’t shock me — though it would certainly make me sad and upset — to learn that publishers might use such systems to output for them reports that help determine whether or not an author gets a new book deal, and at what price point advances are offered. “Sorry, the robot says your reviews online could be better, so we’re cutting 20% off your advance.” Is this happening now? No idea. Will it happen? No idea, but again, wouldn’t be shocked.

Does that mean there are ethical considerations to leaving reviews?

In the sense there are ethical considerations to everything we do, sure. Certainly there’s a possibility, even a likelihood, that bad reviews will start to have a programmatic effect on our publishing environment. TechBros definitely want everything to feel SUPER DISRUPTED, BRO, turning everything into an algo-driven numerical ranking used to concentrate power away from labor and into the hands of the companies. (“Sorry, bro, you’re only at a 4.7, so we’re going to have to take away your healthcare, since the threshold is a 4.81.”) Certainly you should absolutely leave a glowing review for your Uber driver, your Doordash driver, any labor worker you can review individually, because anything less than that absolutely fucks them. I’m not yet aware of this happening to authors, though again, it is possible that it will have some clandestine effect — or is even having an effect now we’re unaware of. (The ground is moving fast under our feet.)

Even still, I think suggesting that readers have an obligation to leave only positive reviews is weird, and sets a dangerous precedent that only feeds the above problem before it gets going. (And if our books only get five-stars, then nothing really matters anymore.) Selfishly, I’d love if we all rounded up our reviews — you know, hedge our bets a little bit in case The Robots decide to start executing all authors below a 3.5-star rating. Doubly so when we’re talking marginalized authors who often are the ones who suffer the most at the hands of review-bombing campaigns. But I don’t really think readers owe writers anything at all besides procuring the book from a bookstore or a library fair and square.

I do think that leaving any review is a good thing, operating under the assumption that attention for the book is attention for the book regardless of the numerical factor of the book’s rating. Though maybe one day I’ll change my tune on that once if I learn, say, that our advances are literally affected by negative reviews. That sounds too evil to be true, but I guess in this day and age, you’d lose big betting against the dystopia.

Where is best to leave a review?

The two usual suspects are Amazon and Goodreads. Goodreads feeds into Amazon, too, which is weird. (GR is owned by Amazon, remember.)

Obviously, both are problematic in a few ways — here, an article about how the world is turning against Goodreads.

You can leave a review at Amazon without having purchased the book, though they indicate that such a review essentially weighs less in terms of the algorithm. Worth reading Amazon’s review note, actually:

There’s also more information at this link.

The Goodreads review policy (and “philosophy”) is here.

I think Storygraph is pretty interesting, but I see now they’re learning into some kind of AI — and I don’t know if it’s the good helpful kind or the kind where it’s just gobbling up all manner of human interaction and art in order to barf out a bunch of shitty information-shapes.

Posting your DEEP BOOK THOUGHTS to social media is good, too. I note that a single post on social can have dramatic effects — look no further than how Bigolas Dickolas completely bent the arc for This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I know that TikTok is also a place where backlist can end up flaring bright in the darkness of obscurity, and any hope for renewed interest in older books is a huge win.

So what does any of this mean?

Forgive my flailing, but I really don’t know. Currently, my feeling is this:

Leave reviews when you can. While we can’t speak to the exact value, they certainly direct attention to a book.

I personally might suggest trying to ensure that reviews are fair-minded, even-handed, kind when they can be. Even a bad review doesn’t have to read like a manifesto of spleen, is what I’m saying. You’re free to write ONE STAR, TURDS, as your entire review; you do you. Your mileage can and should vary and I think the review space is all yours, and what you put there is between you and your gods, and you’re under no obligation to us. (We’re also under no obligation to you, either. We write what we write, you write what you write, and hopefully in the middle of that Venn Diagram are some fulfilled readers and unstarving writers.)

Again, this may all change — if we start to see that reviews are actually moving the needle and hurting writers (and writers are labor), then I do think that equation might need to shift in terms of ethical ramifications.

I don’t know how much reviews ultimately matter. I do know I’m gracious that anyone would read one of my books and feel affected by it enough to go say something about it somewhere, anywhere.

Ultimately, again, there’s no obligation to review a book at all, and certainly no obligation to review it favorably. But I do think that there is value in helping curate a healthy bookish ecosystem by leaving reviews, and being thoughtful about those reviews in some way.

Hey, it’s my birthday!

So I mean if you wanna get me a present and leave a review of one of my books somewhere, that’d be super cool. Or you could even buy one of my books! That’d be nice. Or don’t! I’m not your father. I am merely your weird uncle, and my words carry no authority at all.

That B&N Preorder Sale

Listen, it’s the time of the year when B&N offers a pretty nice deal on preordered books, and so of course every author in the world is like AHHHH PLEASE PREORDER MY BOOK, and honestly, if you can, it’s great? It’s good for the author, it’s good for bookstores, it’s good for the overall bookish ecosystem. It is not required, but you will surely find a lot of cool books to pre-order out yonder, and of course I am obliged to hang out my own shingle and gesticulate wildly toward it.

I, in fact, have two books for preorder–

The first, arriving June 25th, is the paperback of Black River Orchard from Del Rey (B&N link here):

And the second is my next middle grade, Monster Movie! (the exclamation point is very important and if you forget it, the monster will eat you), coming out on September 10th of this year. (B&N link here.)

The gist is, you get 25% off with code PREORDER25, and you get an additional 10% off if you’re a B&N member.

And I’ll note there are a lot of potential books you can pre-order.

Not just by me!

Here, for example, is a cool sampling of said books:

Hailey Piper’s ALL THE HEARTS YOU EAT.

Eric LaRocca’s AT DARK, I BECOME LOATHSOME.

Delilah Dawson’s GUILLOTINE and IT WILL ONLY HURT FOR A MOMENT.

Kevin Hearne’s CANDLE & CROW.

HORROR MOVIE by Paul Tremblay.

CJ Leede’s AMERICAN RAPTURE.

HORROR FOR WEENIES by Emily Hughes.

THE DEVIL BY NAME (the FEVER HOUSE sequel!) by Keith Rosson.

Ronald Malfi’s SMALL TOWN HORROR.

A NATURAL HISTORY OF EMPTY LOTS by Christopher Brown.

M.L. Rio’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT.

THE LONELIEST PLACE by Lora Senf.

These are books I’m either reading and digging, or just plain looking forward to my own damn self. Anyway! Books are good! Get books! From wherever you are able to get them. And if you pre-order these from B&N, you get a deal, and we all get to keep writing and, y’know, keep eating. Yay books.

Fallout Is The Perfect Video Game Adaptation (And Other Things I’m Digging)

Fallout is, so far, the most videogamey of all the potential video game adaptations. When I say it is the perfect adaptation, I don’t simply mean in quality — though the quality is high! — I mean that it somehow has distilled the experience of the game into the sweet narrative liquor of a television show. Game mechanics are represented organically, and in a way that makes sense, down to (and these are first episode spoilers, very light, but be warned) using stimpaks and having a scene of “presenting my skills for character creaton” and the bloody mess perk and the junk jet gun, and, and, and. Every time I see a game mechanic lovingly folded into the story I’m like

It feels like it’s not trying to transcend the material, which, honestly, is pretty refreshing. Transcending the material is fine! But it can also feel like, “Oh, we can do better,” in a kind of looking-down-your-nose-y way. “We’re making art here, turning the raw unprocessed pablum of the video game into something so much more.”

This isn’t that. It isn’t so much more. It’s exactly the game. Not the story! The story is new. But if you play the Fallout games and feel like you’ve lived in them, this show will also feel like you’re living in it. It is, in a weird way, the same comfort of playing the game. It feels like going home. As long as, y’know, “home” is “a brutal cartoonishly violent satirical nuclear wasteland.”

Ooh, also, the violence and gore are off the charts but at the same time, don’t feel… upsetting? Is that weird? There’s a cruelty and a cynicism to the violence in some shows, from Game of Thrones to The Boys. And it works in those places, don’t get me wrong. But here it’s a little more Looney Tunes? Someone on Threads said that it was more EVIL DEAD 2 than SAW, and I think that’s definitely a good way to put it.

Anyway! Only a couple episodes deep but it’s great. It’s kind of a shame they released it all at once? Not sure why they did that. I’d rather savor it week to week. Parcel it out instead of wolfing it all down in one go.


Hey, here are ten songs I’ve been listening to and enjoying.

You know, if you like music.

(Links all go to YouTube.)

(I don’t dig on the Spotify.)

1. All the new Girl In Red album, but hey, check out Serotonin.

2. Tom Cardy: Perception Check

3. This rehearsal version of Olivia Rodrigo’s Obsessed is great.

4. Okay, more Tom Cardy, this time with Ninja Sex Party, Dance Till You Stop, which is about being at a party and hating being at parties

5. Last Dinner Party, Nothing Matters, is lush and sad and excellent

6. Mama Zu’s whole album is great, and here I’ll shout out Lip as maybe my favorite. I was like, “wow, Mama Zu is great, I want more,” and then I Googled the band and found out the lead singer died a few years ago? And this album is only just coming out and I’m sad about this in so many ways. Lost a great artist and we’re only just discovering the artist who is lost. Anyway, Lip may be one of the truly best songs of recent memory.

7. This acoustic session of “The Becoming” from NIN — video directed by Rob Sheridan, fuck yeah — is great and I’m just now rediscovering this version.

8. Paramore’s Burning Down the House cover? Yes please.

9. My music-buddy and friend Liz sent me this one a little while back and it is in steady rotation at the Wendighaus — Sweeping Promise’s Good Living Is Coming For You

10. I anticipate Remi Wolf’s Cinderella will be a COOL SUMMER JAM for me.


What’s that? YOU LIKE-A THE BOOKS?

First, just go get Sarah Langan’s A BETTER WORLD immediately. It’s a little bit satire, a little bit speculative, a little bit thriller, lot of social commentary, and it’s just racing through my head even after I’m done it. It shares some sort of spiritual terrain with Rob Hart’s THE WAREHOUSE.

Also, M.L. Rio has a novella out soon you need to look for — GRAVEYARD SHIFT. It’s a lot in a little package. It’s rats and fungus and great character work and has that nice balance of mystery and thriller and “literary.”

I’ve heard Paul Tremblay’s HORROR MOVIE is fucking great, but no one has sent me a copy yet, PAUL, which is of course fine because I’m an adult and can buy my own books, PAUL, but where is my book, PAUL, goddamnit. You can never, ever, not even once, go wrong with Paul Tremblay. Unless you try to feed him a pickle. Then it’s game over.

Cina Pelayo’s FORGOTTEN SISTERS was really, really good, and it’s out now. I technically sent in a blurb for it but I don’t think it ended up anywhere? I said in that blurb, “Pelayo’s darkly poetic prose captures you like a river current and pulls you into its embrace.” Anyway! Go get it!

Got the newest ARC from my homie Delilah, GUILLOTINE, too, so I’m excited to read that this weekend. If you haven’t read BLOOM yet, fix your shit immediately.


I’m always on the lookout for good standup comedy, but man, it’s fraught turning on nearly any comedy special by A WHITE DUDE in the year of our lord 2024. Not to get all “””woke””” on you but the moment your comedy devolves into a grievance rant about how you can’t say this or that anymore and something-something trans, I’m noping the fuck out. Can’t you just do comedy? Just be funny. Make jokes that work instead of making a special of shitty signals an increasingly marginal audience. Don’t be an asshole.

The Anthony Jeselnik commentary on this is worth a watch, btw.

Anyway. Good (recentish) comedy specials out there to watch, though, still — Jacqueline Novak, Taylor Tomlinson, Marc Maron, Dimitri Martin’s newest, Sam Jay, Tig Notaro, Trevor Noah, Mike Birbiglia, and so forth.


What else? Shit, I dunno. GODZILLA X KONG was really silly and a lot of fun, and I’m happy to hear that the Monsterverse is continuing in more TV iterations, too, because Monarch was great.

I also liked The Gentleman on Netflix a lot? Haven’t seen the movie.

OKAY THAT’S IT

Buy my books or I perish.

For instance, do not forget —

CANINES & COCKTAILS IS FINALLY OUT YAAAAAAAHHHHHH

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