Book Review Writing 101

As an indie author, one of my most time consuming activities when trying to avoid writing is reading reviews for books I’ll never read. This might seem like a futile activity, but I like to think it gives me an idea of what readers are looking for, it allows me to avoid common pitfalls of writing a specific genre, or, failing those, it at least entertains me for a couple minutes. The latter is provided by what the internet seems to be best at doing: exposing me to the nuts out there and the stuff they want everyone to read.

In short, in the place of the three extra books I could’ve written during the time I procrastinate is up-until-now useless knowledge about what makes a reasonable book review.

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Instead of writing three extra books, this cat attempted to master winking. Nailed it!

Book review writing is difficult. I had a brief stint being active on Goodreads, and I wrote a few reviews. They’re shit. And not horseshit, which is almost pleasant when encountered on some country road, but the type of shit you might encounter in some inner-city back alley, which you can’t, to a reasonable degree of scientific accuracy, tell whether it came from man or dog. I totally understand that without the shit reviews out there, customers wouldn’t be able to make pseudo-informed choices about the books they buy. If only qualified people wrote book reviews, I wouldn’t have any, and I wouldn’t even sell the meager number of books I do. But what I don’t understand are reviews that fail on some basic level. Not able to articulate why the story about that wizard gave you a semi but you stated it anyway? That’s cool with me. But what I can’t forgive is writing a review that doesn’t meet the four requirements below. Book Review Writing 101 – shoot for horseshit, not human or dog shit.

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Sweet shit.

When writing a book review, you should ensure:

  1. Your star rating is justified by your review

Along with writing the shit you write, you’ll be required to give the book a star rating. It’s important to make sure that if you, say, give it a three-star rating, you make sure you articulate to a reasonable degree of clarity why you knocked two stars off. I received the below review on Smashwords. It’s my first and only one on there. I appreciate her taking the time to write it. It’s a favorable review, but I can’t help but wonder why it wasn’t at least four stars.

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Smashwords, you are the website that distributes this book.

Till the day I die, I’ll always wonder why baseball team A never won the Wold Series, how political party C made such a mess of country B, and why, despite my book being very entertaining, I didn’t inspire this reader to press that sweet five-star button.

2. You finish the book before writing a review

A book isn’t like a plate of food. You can’t take one bite and decide you don’t like it, unless that one bite was riddled with objective errors, like the chef used piss to thin out his sauce instead of water. Confused metaphor aside, if you don’t finish a book you’ve failed to attain the primary qualification for reviewing said book: you didn’t read the frickin’ thing.

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Send it back. Terrible character development.

When I go to my dentist, she doesn’t lean over, exposing her cleavage a little, and take one look at a molar and give me a clean bill of dental health. She looks at all of my teeth and then decides, based on the cleanliness of each individual tooth, that I do a bang-up job of brushing my teeth. I’m also a pretty decent flosser, but that is neither relevant nor contributes to the metaphor.

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I couldn’t decide which caption to go with, so I’ll put both: 1) “Yep, that was definitely a nipple” and 2) “How many fingers am I holding up?”

3. You don’t assume everyone has the same reading tastes as you

It may sound simple, but people like different stuff. While I’m not a fan of hotdogs, I quite like burgers. Some people watch football on a Saturday afternoon; I prefer to watch movies. The below review can be read in two ways. He could either be defining my target demographic somewhat or he could be saying that, because it features the subject matters stated below, the book is objectively bad. The fact that he gave it two stars seems to suggest the latter. I don’t like posing for pictures with a dog that looks suspiciously like me, but it’s not to say it’s an objectively bad pastime.

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If this book for you?

4. You know what type of book you’re reviewing

When reviewing a book, it’s important to know what category or subcategory the book falls into. You’d come across as a bit of a doofus if you wrote a review for Sharknado 3: The Third One based on its merits as a serious natural disaster movie. Equally, you’d come across as a doofus, at least in this humble author’s opinion, if you wrote a review of a comic mystery book (aka, bumbling detective) and you reviewed it based on its merits as an example of “noir detective fiction,” which is incidentally a non-existent, paradoxical subcategory, as I pointed out in a previous blog post.

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Define finally…

 

That’s all I’ve got, which is to say it’s Saturday afternoon and I’m going to watch a movie while eating a burger. If you’re on the way to a football game and have a hankering for a hotdog, go fuck yourself. What you like is obviously shittier than what I like.

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User of words

If I made you laugh at least three times, can you do me favor and press one of the share buttons below. Like what you read? Press the follow button to read blog posts future me promises me he’ll write.


The first in my series of comic mystery novels is perma-free on Amazon.com. Check it out here.

The best way to interact with me on social media is via my Facebook page, which is my way of saying head on over and like it.

 

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Who Are You Writing for and Why Does it Matter?

I mentioned in an earlier blog post the importance of writing for a specific target demographic. In the absence of any other blog topic, and in order to keep up my once-a-week-schedule I promised to myself I’d keep in last week’s blog post, I’ll expand on what I meant and why it’s important. When browsing Twitter, I often see book plugs akin to “If you like historical romance, you’ll love Book A,” or, “Science fiction nut? Check out Book B.” That’s like McDonald’s assuming that anyone who likes food will automatically love their shitty burgers. The people who write book plugs like the examples above haven’t thought hard enough about whom they’re writing for. And it will probably mean, barring some stroke of luck, that they’ll never effectively market their books. They’ll never get their books in front of the thousands of readers they couldn’t be bothered specifically targeting who will buy everything they write and make them financially independent. In short, they’ll never be able to tell their boss go fuck himself, they’re done making McShittys for peanuts…Peanuts, McShitty? I feel a joke touching cloth.

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Require sustenance? Come in and try a McShitty. *Warning: some mornings it may contain peanuts*

If a writer wants to build up a devoted readership, it’s not enough to assume that anyone who reads the genre or even the super-specific subgenre they write will automatically become a fan. Because guess what, there are a shit-ton of other writers offering the same literature packaged the same way, and without having set they’re stall out differently from the rest of the authors of that genre, their books will try to impress all the readers of that genre and end up impressing none. They need to define a subset of a particular genre reader in their mind and tailor their writing to blow the socks of those people, and figuratively tell everyone who’s part of a different subset of readers who likes science fiction or military thrillers or whatever to go fuck themselves.

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In writing mysteries with edgy humor, I figuratively told this outdoorsy type who likes cozy mysteries about baking and dogs to go fuck herself.

So how do I go about defining my target demographic and writing specifically for them? I hear you ask. It’s simple, think about the experience you want to give them. You’re not going to be like a hooker who wants to be a Jill of all trades, master of none. You’ve got a niche customer base who you’ll specifically dress up for and cater to when between the sheets of some bed in some Motel 6. A target demographic shouldn’t be defined by age range or interests or if they color their hair at home or at the salon, or as mentioned above that they happen to read a specific genre, but what experience they’re looking for as a reader.

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M is for what suspiciously looks like a gorilla.

A couple years ago, I tried to write appeal-to-everyone literary fiction that I thought I could sell shit-tons of. I didn’t have a clue whom I was writing for, just that I liked writing. Writing those books was laborious, and editing them was like smashing myself in the forehead repeatedly with a sledgehammer. They were shit. And the reason they were shit, apart from the fact that back then I was an even shittier writer than I am now, was that my heart wasn’t in it. Around the same time, I decided I’d like to get well read. I picked up a Charles Dickens book that had been collecting dust on my bookshelf and started reading. I hated it. I hated all the description, I hated that it made me feel stupid, and I hated how slow it moved. With this experience in mind, I set out to find out what shit I actually like to read, and found an author who wrote exactly that.

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For the life of me I can’t get that asshole to like my books.

I won’t mention who it is, because I’m not into plugging other self-published authors on my blog, and because it’s irrelevant. Anyway, the point of the above longwinded story wasn’t to Dickens on Charles, but to lead onto whom I write for, my target demographic. Figuring I’d never sell enough books to satisfy my ambition, I started writing to entertain myself. My target demographic is me. And this is the type of reader I am and what experience I want:

The only times I read are during my commute to and from work. It’s either super early or I’ve just spent a day at work, so my concentration isn’t the best. This means I need books that aren’t super complex or are bogged down with rarely written words and that look light on the page. The place I live, Oslo, is quite scenic, and in order to stop me from gawping at the various views I go past on my journey to or from work, I need books that strive to be constantly entertaining. I don’t give a fuck if there’s any social realism or topical themes—if I want to be educated or enlightened about something, I’ll read a newspaper or pick up a non-fiction book—and I equally don’t give a fuck about how clever the writer is. I especially don’t want to read some flowery description of a room or a person. If I want something nice to look at, I don’t want to imagine it based on some author’s words. I’ll look at it on my television screen or at an art gallery. In the place of visual imagery and topical-theme-laden narratives, I want banter between characters, lots of dialogue and action, and a plot that moves faster than a hobo who’s just found a winning lottery ticket. I’m willing to suspend disbelief and read about characters that I don’t necessarily relate to or think realistic, as long as those characters are working their asses off to entertain me. When I finish a book, I don’t want to feel like I’ve just sat through a mildly interesting 5-hour lecture, but like I’ve just been to the circus while high on LSD. I want fiction books to do what they’re supposed to do: entertain me, regardless of whether they’re considered good literature or not.

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Unless it’s a bad trip…a really bad trip.

So that’s the type of reader I am. And that’s whom I write for. I write books to make myself laugh, and I’m not a unique like a snowflake, so other readers laugh too. Ones who share my sense of humor. And I market my books to appeal to other readers like me—while producing my blurbs, my book covers, and this blog. Next time you sit down to write, think about who it is you’re writing for and what type of experience they’re looking for. Don’t make a McShitty and think that everyone who likes food will lap it up, because they won’t.

As always, if you laughed out loud at least three times, press one of the share buttons below. It’s kind of a deal I have going on with the readers of this blog.


Does the above the description of what type of reader I am sound like you? If so, you might like my fiction books.

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How to Not Shoot Yourself in the Face After Receiving a Bad Review

Last time I blogged I think I maybe came across a bit of an asshole. But, as I’ve written before, I don’t think it’s the first time. My intention every time I write a blog post is to discover a comedy mother lode, from which I can mine joke after joke, until I ask you to like my Facebook page or check out my books. But sometimes I fail in finding the comedy. The result can sometimes get messy. So what blog post idea have I come up with this week to make sure I stay well clear of coming off as bitter or hateful? As an indie author, what benign subject shall I blog about that has no potential for turning into a whiny, rhetoric-filled rant? Why, bad reviews, of course.

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After a receiving a bad review, this indie author went for a relaxing stroll.

If there’s one piece of advice indie authors agree on, it’s that you should never, ever reply to or comment on a bad review you’ve received. Ever. It’s sound advice, and I’ve managed to heed it so far in my short non-career as a writer. The last couple weeks I received my first really bad reviews, but I took them well, like a divorcee who had no intention of gaining sole custody of his children. I won’t be addressing the failings of the reviewers who posted bad reviews for my books directly. But it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t use my reflections on these reviews to calm indie authors who might be worrying about their first really bad reviews. That’s my thinly-veiled excuse for writing the following advice, and I’m sticking to it.

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Veiled, thinly in parts, but in the literal sense.

While reading my bad reviews, I identified three distinct types. Two of them you can forget about. Hell, you can even make a night of it and read them with your spouse with a bowl of popcorn, reading bad reviews the same way Woody Allen thinks about going to the movies. The final one could result in you spending an evening with a bottle of whisky and a loaded gun. In order to put your mind at rest, if you’re an indie author awaiting his first reviews from non-Twitter followers and family members, I’m going to dispel the myth that all bad reviews are damaging for your potential writing career.

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A swarm of bad reviewers in their natural habitat.

Three types of bad reviews. Two you should be indifferent about. One that should make you go back to the drawing board. Got it? Good.

Let’s jump right in.

  1. The Review Written by Someone Who Got Offended by Your Book

John Locke wrote that if you don’t offend anyone with your writing, then you’re not doing it properly. I agree, especially if you’re writing comedy or humorous fiction. The book business is highly competitive, and in order to gain fans, your aim should be to tailor your writing style to appeal to a slim demographic of readers, which inevitably alienates or offends the rest. As long as you tailor your book descriptions to keep that demographic of reader who will hate your books from reading them—like I thought I had, and still do—then have at it with a writing style that isn’t cozy or appropriate for all the family. When I tell a joke, I want to surprise you. And sometimes that means shocking you. Just because one reader thought I was being sexist when I wrote a shit-ton of ex-wife jokes in my first novel, does it mean they shouldn’t be in there? Absolutely not. I bet some of those jokes are the reason for at least a few of my five-star reviews. And who knows, you could even end up with a reviewer going hyperbolic on your ass, spewing hate-filled observations that might intrigue potential readers browsing your book. Like I did.

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Popcorn time.

I bet at least a few potential readers who read the above review thought, If this crazy person hated it, then I bet I’d love it! Or it could be: Jesus, what in the world has this author written to upset this person so badly? I want to find out. I know I’ve thought both of those things when reading reviews for other authors’ books. Hell, one of my colleagues muttered the latter when I showed her the above review. If you get a review of this kind, relax. You just offended someone. I do that practically every time I write a simile. And who knows, by writing that edgy joke that made some readers want to throw their Kindle in the trash from disgust, you might just gain yourself a fan who’ll write a five-star review for your book and buy everything you write.

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Brain fuel

2. The Review Written by Someone Reviewing the Wrong Type of Book

On a number of occasions I’ve received reviews that made me think, Did this person read my book?  And one occasion, I was convinced of it—and it turned out she had. But that’s not the type of review I’m thinking about. A couple days ago, someone reviewed my book thinking it’s something it’s not. Here it is:

bad review twoThis person seems to be convinced that I attempted to write “noir detective fiction.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I wasn’t entirely sure what that was. So I googled it and found this definition:

noir fictionSure, my books feature a private investigator as the protagonist, but I wasn’t attempting to write “noir detective fiction.” The Jake Hancock Mystery Thrillers are throwaway three-hour reads with outrageous plot lines, silly characters, and a shit-ton of borderline-misogynistic jokes—if you ignore that women in the books run rings around the men. I could say they’re parodies of detective fiction, but that would be giving myself way too much credit. As I mentioned above, I wrote a book description for the first book that communicates that it isn’t a serious mystery thriller. There are clues left throughout the description, but the key is in the following paragraph:

“Despite having not worked undercover for a while, Hancock poses as Megan’s much-older boyfriend for a family weekend at her childhood home in Rodeo, Texas. From within their home, he will learn their secrets…and hopefully get laid in the process.”

This part of the description alone should’ve informed this reader he or she wasn’t getting Raymond Chandler. Am I worried about this review? Hell no. I did my job in writing an appropriate book description. If they couldn’t see that they were buying oranges instead of apples, then they need a new glasses prescription. And if you write appropriate descriptions, this type of review will be kept to a minimum. Will this review hurt my sales? There’ll probably be some potential readers who are put off buying, but for every browser put off by this review, I bet there are two who think, What did you expect? And ignore it.

If I wanted to be a pedantic dick, I’d point out that “noir fiction” features someone other than a detective as the protagonist. But I made a promise to myself at the start of this blog, and I didn’t have a clue either.

And if I wanted to be an even bigger dick, I’d point out that this reader is a fan of a series called Taco Bob and the Witch Sisters. I’m not dicking on that series, as I haven’t read it, but the reviewer seems to have reviewed that series based on its merits, but held my series to a literary standard I didn’t try to attain in the first place. She’s right: It is a poor attempt at “noir detective fiction.”

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Tacos minus Bob.

3. The Review Written by Someone Who Thinks Your Book is Objectively Bad or Mundane

Ready with the whisky bottle and loaded gun? Getting the above types of bad reviews is all well and good, but what you don’t want are reviews that say your book objectively sucks. That it’s riddled with errors, punctuation or otherwise. Or that it’s mundane. And the reviewer is oh so eloquent in explaining why. These reviews are book-sales cancer, especially if they make up the majority. To fix the former, you need beta readers or an editor. I use a number of beta readers to spot mistakes in my books, after I’ve done a shit-load of editing myself. But as with all books, even ones published by big publishing houses, there are probably a few errors in each of my books. But I figure the readers who love my books will forgive me for it. In fact, one reviewer wrote as much:

good review

The next reviewer, not so much:

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Four-star reviews, if they become a trend, can be equally destructive to sales. I mentioned above that you should write to entertain a very specific target demographic, and for good reason. If you try to please everyone, you could end up wowing no one. Try to please everyone, and you’re serving everyone a bland meal. Remember to open the spice drawer, even if chili powder doesn’t agree with Aunt Barbara’s irritable bowel syndrome. The only solution to avoiding mundanity is to be brave. Write books that offend the shit out of some people, but which makes fans of others.

Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. There are many other types of bad reviews. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Meanwhile, I’ll be writing the next Hancock book. It’s going to offend the shit out of some people. I can’t wait. Thanks for reading, and please share if I made you laugh at least four times…maybe that’s ambitious. Three? Deal. The share buttons are below.

Check out my offensive books here

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Five Achievable New Year’s Resolutions

Before we all get shit-faced tonight and then sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ while we watch someone else’s fireworks display from our balconies as the clock strikes twelve, we’ll probably be considering how we can better ourselves in 2016. But are we kidding ourselves with typical New Year’s resolutions? Probably is probably the answer. New Year’s resolutions are like Chinese welding: they’re made to be broken. Maybe it’s time we lower the bar a little. Are we really going to consistently pack ourselves into gyms, transforming our bodies to look like Brad Pitt’s in Fight Club? Will we be able to spend more time with our families while maintaining the same work schedule? And can we really imagine ourselves volunteering every weekend, handing out warm bowls of soup to queues of cold vagrants? It’s time to stop being so 2015 and step into the world of the realist.

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This holiday makes it seem like it’s going to be a great year

I know what you’re thinking: if we can’t realistically achieve those improvements to our lives, then what areas of our lives can we expect to improve? I’m glad you asked. I’ve spent the last five minutes thinking of achievable New Year’s resolutions so you don’t have to. I know, what a guy…

You’ll probably never have a six-pack, but you can realistically expect to be able to:

  1. Throw away a pair of socks as soon of one of them has a hole in it

As far as New Year’s resolutions go, this has got to be the easiest. After pulling out a pair of socks on a Monday morning, only to find one of the garments no longer achieves its primary purpose of completely covering your foot, get up and throw those suckers in the trash. Both of them. It’s 2016, and you’re way above having a collection of odd socks in your underwear drawer. Your wife will now at least respect you a little, and you can say goodbye to that inevitable embarrassing moment when you’re on a staff training course and the course leader makes everyone do an activity with their shoes off. For the really confident New Year’s resolution maker, you can promise yourself that you’ll regularly trim your toenails, so that the big one doesn’t prematurely poke a hole in your sock in the first place.

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I know I saw a hole someplace

2. Regularly wipe the dust off your printer in your office

Okay, I just looked around the room to come up with this one, but I can’t be the only seemingly civilized human being who cleans every surface in his home except the printer’s. Looking at him now, he looks really sad with that years’ old layer of dust coating him. In 2016, things are going to be different, and I’m going to respect my boarding pass printer-outer. And so should you. A printer’s for life, not just making air travel slightly less stressful.

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Dust…? Ha!

3. Spend MORE time flicking through your news feed on Facebook

Watching viral videos of monkeys throwing feces at each other is important. Thinking of heading to office earlier in 2016, so that you can gun for that promotion that evaded you in 2015? You have permission to forget all about it. You may as well spend time in the mornings by slightly amusing yourself while simultaneously depleting your sense of self-worth. Who knows, those few miserable chuckles could do a world of good for your morale, making you the type of employee who your employer thinks would be suitable for handling the complexities of the next rung of the ladder. It probably won’t, but at least you’ve spent your time trying to watch a bunch of shit videos, half of which wouldn’t load on your three-year-old iPad.

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Come at me, brah!

4. Say “I love you” to your parents at the end of FaceTiming them without putting on a silly voice

You’ve tried to have a meaningful conversation with your parents while hungover on a Saturday afternoon, and it’s getting to the point where you need to rap things up. Instead of waving like a mad man and saying those three blessed words in the voice of Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants, look straight into their eyes—well, the camera lens—and say it like you mean it. You’ll feel better, and your parents might think you’ve started taking ecstasy on Saturday afternoons. Win-win!

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That’ll never be us

5. Don’t drink water

In 2016 you’re going to be more efficient. You’re going to run your days like a well-oiled machine. Teeth still need to be brushed. The baby’s diapers still need changing. So what can be shaved from your daily routine? Drinking water, of course. All that unnecessary swallowing of water and the subsequent bathroom breaks are undoubtedly the reason why your face didn’t appear on the front of Time magazine in 2015. But won’t I die, Dan? I hear you ask. Not if you buy IV equipment from eBay and hook it up to your arm every time you sit down to do work by the computer. The really ambitious New Year’s resolution maker can forego all that unnecessary eating, too.

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Is his face exactly in the center?

So there you have it. Choose one of the above and make 2016 what it’s supposed to be: a hopefully slightly less depressing facsimile of 2015.

It wouldn’t be a proper Dan Taylor blog post if I didn’t at least spend a little time waffling on about myself, so I’ll let you in on what my New Year’s resolutions are: getting in shape, quitting drinking, and getting more organized. Oh, and handing out bowls of soup to vagrants with a fake smile on my face.

Happy New Year!


 

My books about a private investigator way too cool to make New Year’s resolutions can be checked out here.

And don’t forget to say hi on Facebook.

Interjections Are a Funny Business

While reading a review of a book I was thinking of buying, I came across an interjection I’d never encountered before. At first I thought it was a typo, that the person had meant to write “belch.” But upon googling the word, I was proven wrong. The word that had got my attention was “blech!” Just in case you didn’t magically understand its meaning from reading it, blech implies nausea. Of course it does.

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Blech!

I found it among a list of equally bizarre interjections, and in the absence of anything else to blog about this weekend—blech!—I thought it might be good fun to try them out. What kind of writer would I be if I couldn’t incorporate the likes of feh, gak, and neener-neener into my writing? And what kind of writer would I be if I couldn’t come up with my own equally bizarre interjections? A shit one, just in case that wasn’t clear.

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Now what would he say next…? I know, “Neener-neener!” Nailed it.

Here we go:

  1. Neener-neener, often uttered in a series of three repetitions, is a taunt.

Reading neener-neener once makes poking my eyes out with a public restroom toilet brush seem preferable, let alone reading a series of three, which I’m informed from the list of interjections I’m referencing is often the way it’s used. But who am I to stand in the way of the evolution of the English language? I’m pretty sure that if had one of my characters use this in their dialog, readers might think I’d swapped my green tea breaks from writing for a casual smoke of crack. Or that I’d fallen asleep with my head on the keyboard and hadn’t edited out the result, which is basically how I wrote the first Hancock novel, according to one reviewer. But fuck it. I’ll do whatever it takes to stay fresh and happening. Time to pop my cherry:

Girlfriend: Did you forget to clean the bathroom this weekend?

Me: Neener-neener neener-neener neener-neener!

Girlfriend: *Takes away my crack pipe and hands me a cup of green tea*

  1. Feh is an indication of feeling underwhelmed or disappointed.

No commentary this time, just straight into the cherry popping:

Girlfriend: What did you think of that Matt LeBlanc film?

Me: Feh!

Girlfriend: Ah, so a C minus?

Me: On the money.

Well what do you know, it is actually effective communication. I actually gave that pile of steaming cinematic feces a D plus, but still, impressive.

  1. Gak is an expression of disgust or distaste.

This interjection has typo-accusation bait written all over it. It’s barely a noise, never mind a word. My googling gak further revealed that it’s also a noun that means a sticky or messy substance. As soon as I read this, coming up with a way of using gak in a sentence was child’s play:

Girlfriend: *While sorting through dirty laundry* Dan…what’s this gak on the bed sheets? *Drops laundry upon realizing* Gak!

  1. Chrecckkkcccxxxx is an indication of great pain, like when one stubs one’s little toe on a coffee table leg or reads a series of three neener-neeners.

I have to confess to making this one up. I have another confession: it’s my favorite. Why? At least it’s an approximation of something people in the English-speaking world actually say, which is more than can be said for feh, neener-neener, or gak. Next time you mistake your open wound for a steak dinner and pour salt in it, give it a try.

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Chrecckkcccxxx!

So there you have it. Was that as good for you as it was for me? If so, press one of the share buttons below. Otherwise, feel free to type any one of the interjections above into the comments section.


 

My books, which aren’t a result of me falling asleep with my head on the keyboard, can be checked out here.

The best way to say hi is through my Facebook page. You can also say gak, feh, or neener-neener to me there.

Have I Created a Monster?

I’m rubbish at being American. So bad, in fact, that I’m British. This causes me a problem when writing my Jake Hancock P.I. series, which is set mostly in Hollywood. That’s why I have a dedicated beta reader—the eagle-eyed Tammy McGowan of Washington D.C.—to spot any British English phrases, any references someone over the pond wouldn’t get, and any words that feel as right in an American’s mouth as a crumpet with butter.

After doing a great job with the first novel, I asked Tammy, “So, what do you think?”

“It’s good. It’s witty, fresh,” she replied.

I sensed a but, so I didn’t reply.

“But there’s one problem.”

Okay…”

“Jake’s a bit of an asshole.”

I wiped the sweat from my brow. Phew! I kind of knew he was when I wrote him. He’s supposed to be that way. I’d come to terms with that already, and I’m prepared to take my lumps. He’s only supposed to appeal to a small demographic of readers.

But she’d sown seeds of doubt in my mind. What if this ‘Jake’s a bit of an asshole’ thing is a bigger problem than I initially thought? What if no one likes him? I like him, but wait, does this mean I’m an asshole? Is this why I have few friends?

Instead of talking this problem through with her, I got on the defensive.

“That’s cool. He’s supposed to be an asshole.”

“I don’t think he’ll appeal to American readers. If someone acted that way in America, people would think that he has bad social skills, has lived overseas for a while, or is…”

“An asshole?”

“Right.”

I inspected dirt under one of my fingernails. “Do you think that’ll be a problem?”

I knew the answer before I asked. We’re not talking about a typo or spelling error that can easily be fixed. It’s a huge problem. If I worked quickly, I could possibly make Jake less of an asshole in the time it would take to write a whole new novel.

I went away from the conversation disheartened. I thought about scrapping my novel. I even phoned my dad to talk the problem through. His solution was simple: “Who’s Jake?”

Now clearly he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when I recounted the conversation with Tammy. But maybe he’d hit upon something. Who is Jake? I thought.

He’s arrogant, narcissistic, flippant and, as far as Tammy’s concerned, he’ll appeal to American readers like a barbecue does a vegan. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Does the world need another clean-cut hero?

Days passed and I managed to trample on those seeds of doubt. I got back to the confidence I felt when I wrote the manuscript, or at least enough steps in front of the doubt to not worry too much about it. I no longer think Jake being an asshole is a problem. To some people he will be. But not everyone. Some readers out there will get him.

Tammy offered, and continues to offer, great advice. But this time I ignored her. Not because I think she’s wrong, just that she likes what she likes and I like what I like. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. Maybe I should imagine a graph that compares curves of book sales for both a sterilized version of Jake and the Jake that I wrote—but that isn’t me. I want readers to like what comes naturally to me, which happens to be writing about a character that most people will think is an asshole.

Besides, not everyone thinks I’m an asshole. At least I hope.

I spoke to Tammy later on, and told her this: “If he’s not able to make enemies, he won’t make any friends.”

What do you think? Have I created a monster?

JakeHancockOne

Hancock P.I. is now available to download for Kindle on Amazon.