Reviewing books has never exactly been my first love. I love to read, always have since I first learned how to, and even more so I love to write, always have since I first learned how to. But book reviews, in my eyes, are book reports. Like I had to do in grade/middle/high school/college. Key words: had to do.That was a lot of years, spent with that damnable had to do.Oh, I loved talking to my friends about some juicy new horror paperback I’d just purchased down the street on the racks at the Safeway market and which took me little than two days to read because I’d suck up the words into my eyeballs with such force as to rival Colin Wilson’s Space Vampires, the way they’d suck up your life force into their eyeballs, but……
…..to pin me down and make me do a report about it…..
I used to do a lot of reading in my spare time, until at one point I became so engrossed in my own writing that I had no more spare time to read. This period lasted for a handful of years. The excuse I’d often use was “I want to sit down and read a good book, but I figure each minute I’m reading someone else’s work could be time spent writing my own.” It was a good excuse for awhile, made damn good sense, and I promised myself once I came to a point where I’d written enough as to warrant a time-out for reading, I’d read. That never seemed to happen.
I eventually found myself introduced to the world of the internet about the same time as I’d put the final period at the end of my Everborn novel, and as I became obsessed with finding the best ways to promote my works and name to an infinite online universe, I became so intensely wrapped up in it all that I still had no time to relax and read something other than a magazine article, with the amount of time and energy I was putting into my own stuff.
Plainly, the entire matter also involved the choices I had to make in regards to what I could do with my free time. Just like most everyone else, I had a life outside of writing career pursuits, making a living doing other things while struggling to move my writing career and writing income up a notch. And when it came time to relaxing, I wanted to play with my son or watch t.v. or go somewhere.
But I missed leisure reading, and, most importantly, I realized something:…
.....actually, I realized a lot of things, so let me break them down for you:
….um, on second thought, let me put it to you this way:
If you want to take yourself seriously in anything that you do, as in a profession or a career or an obsessive side hobby, you’ve got to surround yourself with the sort of people who do what you do to get anywhere in it. And it just doesn’t stop with that. If you love what you do, you’re going to surround yourself with like-minded people naturally.
In this case, in regards to me, it’s all about writing horror for a living to a degree that my life depends upon it.
I mean, I’ve been writing what could be categorized as horror/fantasy at least since I was six, no kidding, and I’ve been in the business of promoting my stuff for that long. By the sixth grade, for example, I’d written two novellas, a few hundred pages of comic strips, copied and distributed about a hundred cheap 3-for-a-dollar audio cassettes upon which I recorded scripted stories complete with sound effects and special guest stars like teachers from my school, and was pimping my stuff to Jack & Jill Magazine and local newsletters and such. I’ve always been writing since, though I was side-tracked by love and relationships and Christian Fundamentalism and heavy drugs and then one day my first novel was published in mass market paperback for all the grocery store check-out stands and passive consumers to see, and then came further publishing contracts, an onslaught of freelance jobs and endless possibilities, highways and byways and alleyways I could turn into or back out of.
All the while, throughout this, my reading life flourished, and as a result I have a multitude of literary influences, which, alas, by the mid-nineties, gave way to the notion that all that mattered in regards to my free time was writing.
When I realized how valuable it was for me to surround myself with other horror writers if I was to take my craft seriously, it went beyond just palling around with literary notables at some horror convention, or involving myself in online chat rooms or blogs or writer’s get-togethers and signings at local book stores or doing lectures where audiences would applaud and then afterwards it was time for me to hide again beneath my tiny celebrity rock and write some more, and it went beyond my web presence at Downwarden.com.
I realized it was a necessity for me to read, just as surely as it was a necessity for me to write.
Reading feeds you. It feeds your literacy, your imagination, your love for having stories told to you. As a serious writer, reading increases your education, invokes a greater awareness of the written word via someone else’s voice and style, exposesyourself to influence, forces you to compare notes, shows you your faults and weaknesses or enforces your growth as a writer and makes you more capable of giving other writers advice when you feel you have more of a knack in the profession than that of the writer you’ve just read. It also makes you more well-read than you were with the last book you finished. And how can you, in this industry, when it comes to promoting your name around, expect someone else to read you when you haven’t taken the time to read them?
Well, ultimately, if you’re going to do it right as a serious writer, and in this case a horror writer, it’s not just about you.
One day, I took a look at my website and figured, I have so much extra space I’m paying so much a year for to keep online, it would do me no better or worse if I accepted submissions for short stories to publish on it, and in doing so it might stimulate traffic. It did. It really worked. Made some great connections, and I was truly surprised at how grateful writers were when I accepted their stories to publish onto my site. Just by doing so, I’ve bonded with writers here and abroad that I otherwise wouldn’t have, and it all cost me nothing but a little time to read, like enough to want to associate my site with, and cut and paste and post.
And then I decided to do reviews.
As you well know by now from this forward, I’ve despised doing book reviews, because to me they’re like book reports, reports I had to do, but having to do them became, for me, somewhat of a necessity as soon as I became convinced at how important reading was.
I decided to force myself to read by accepting published books I’d obligate myself into reading for the purposes of writing an honest review of it and publishing the review onto my website. If anyone took the time to submit to my office a publication of the sort of horror genre fiction that’s right up my alley of interest, I promised to devote the time to not only read it but review it and to publish that review on my website, for free, free except to say that I cannot purchase a copy of the work but I have to have it given to me. That’s always been, since, the general criteria for my doing a review of it.
I mean, if I went out and purchased a paperback at the book store at the mall, who would directly care what I have to say about it if I published my review of it online or in any newspaper unless I was an established reviewer? I’ve never been an established reviewer. Hell, I’ve been an established writer, and people still don’t give a shit about what I have to say.
Or so I thought.
Within the first month thru the first year I started doing these reviews, I found myself having to read because I’d obligated myself to, consequently kick-starting a much-needed reading life, and receiving a cavalcade of emails and letters from writers wanting to send me published copies of their latest work because for one reason or another they highly regard what I have to say and hope my potential praise may further their careers.
I’ve filled over two book cases with books I’ve received in the mail or brought home from appearances, and to this day I’m still way behind schedule fulfilling my ongoing obligation to review them. To make matters worse, I’ve swapped my own books time and again at signings and appearances with other authors’ books by that author, promising I’ll review theirs, always abiding by my own rule that any book I review must be complimentary.
In the process, I’ve put myself into a situation where I’m reading more than I ever used to, and as a result of these reviews I’ve bonded with writers abroad. A lot of times, my name’s been promoted right along with some of these writers because I praised their work or provided them with something positive and quotable, the same way I do when someone I admire says something good about my own stuff and I exploit it in hopes to push my career up a notch.
Sometimes I post a review, and I hear crickets.
Other times, my critique for a less favorable book provides enough positive influence for an independent author or a small press to do better next time.
Sometimes I have to do a review and I don’t even feel like doing one, and I thank God for not doing this kind of thing freelance or for a fee with a deadline. With these reviews, I’ve always taken my time and spoken my mind, with no one above me to have to answer to if I write something politically incorrect or something that doesn’t make sense because I had a few drinks before writing it.
Out of the lessons I’ve learned pertinent to my goals and aspirations as a writer, I’ve learned, overall and from these reviews, that it’s not just about myself and my own goals, but if we all pay attention to each other and to each other’s works, as writers, we can learn from and compliment one another, just by doing what we do best.
Have I covered just about everything?
I think so.
I hope that you pay utmost attention to the smaller presses, particularly in regards to horror, because there’s a great deal of good storytellers out there worthy of being paid attention to that are struggling to get the chance. I hope to exploit that.......
-----N. Grabowsky,January, 2008