‘A Really Stinky Book’ (2011)

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I read this book, and a couple other clangers, in preparation for an interview. I think it was with Joshua’s uncle, Kevin, on his internet radio show. I look back with amazement that any published book could be this bad.

A Really Stinky Book!

Sometimes when adults write about teenagers, they come off as space aliens trying to write about human beings without having the slightest understanding of humanity, they might as well be writing about catfish. A book like this is an insult to every poor devil who ever tried and failed to get published. A monkey could write a better one, if you gave him a keyboard.

You owe it to yourself to give this book a wide berth.

‘Another Literary Crime’

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There are many things a writer can do to wreck his own work. One of them is to make the reader think that you think he’s a dunce who can’t tell good from evil.

Another Literary Crime

Why else would the author continually editorialize about his characters? How badly do we need to be told that the villain is a bad guy? Page after page after page?

And yet we see this, sometimes in fantastically successful best-selling books. Never mind that those books will be forgotten someday, while better books live on. For the time being, they’re selling like hotcakes.

I think it’s just further evidence that we’re living in a fallen world.

A Lame Excuse for a Literary Lapse

michael_gothard_archive | Ivanhoe: screencaps

Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe will last forever as a literary classic. Even so, there’s one little clinker in it that makes you wonder if Scott was quite sane at the time.

To show the futility of any dream of ousting the Normans and putting a Saxon noble on the throne of England, Scott gives us a lout named Athelstane as the last remaining repository of that hope. Although descended from Saxon royalty, Athelstane’s main interest in life is eating. You could put him in a stall with a feed-bag, and he’d be happy.

Toward the end of the story, Athelstane gets killed in a battle. The larders of England breathe a collective sigh of relief. The reader promptly forgets there was ever such a character as Athelstane–

Until, in Chapter XLII, Sir Walter Scott brings him back to life.

Now, this was not like Conan Doyle being forced by public outrage to bring back Sherlock Holmes after drowning him in the Reichenbach Falls. Why bring back Athelstane, a clod? Let’s let Sir Walter himself answer that question, in his own footnotes to Ivanhoe.

“59. The resuscitation of Athelstane has been much criticised, as too violent a breach of probability, even for a work of such fantastic character. It was a ‘tour-de-force,’ to which the author was compelled to have recourse, by the vehement entreaties of his friend and printer, who was inconsolable on the Saxon being conveyed to the tomb.”

That’s his excuse–an inconsolable printer? Well, it’s feeble enough to be true. What a soft-hearted fellow Sir Walter must have been! The return of Athelstane was unnecessary, unwanted, and preposterous; and you wonder how a literary giant could have taken such a fall. It’s like Hamlet’s pants splitting with an audible riiiip! in the middle of “To be or not to be.”

Note to aspiring authors: Don’t think you’ll ever get away with a honker like this.

‘Literary Crimes’ (2015)

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I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of it is poop. That’s usually because it’s full of literary crimes.

Literary Crimes

The Know-It-All Elf and The Invincible Female Warrior–what would certain writers do for characters, if they didn’t have these worn-out cliches to fall back on?

Then there’s crazy dialogue. There’s only one thing worse than long passages of speech written in what the author images to be dialect. That’s long passages of speech in which the author wanders in and out of dialect.

The mystery of it all! We wouldn’t know these cliches for cliches if they weren’t crammed into books that actually got published–thousands of ’em.

‘And Here’s an Even Worse Book’ (2011)

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“The Immortals”? Immortality under these conditions would be unbearable.

You wouldn’t have thought it possible to stage a literary train-wreck as total as Jon Skovron’s Misfit; but in Blue Moon, Alyson Noel (don’t tell me that’s what it says on her birth certificate) certainly gives it a serious try. Imagine being stuck in high school for, oh, four hundred years or so. But reading this book only feels like that.

And Here’s an Even Worse Book

You may wonder what I was doing, reading these really stupid books in the first place. Well, I was preparing to be a guest on a radio program, discussing Young Adults fiction. After you read a few of these, you kind of lose heart and need to take eight or nine years off. I guess I’m ready to go back on the air, if anyone wants me.

I would love to see one of these “teen lit” authors try to tell a story without cliches. Betcha anything they couldn’t do it. It would be funny–like watching someone try to dribble a loaf of bread down the basketball court.

These books are so bad, I find it almost sinister. Is it part of some incredibly subtle and complicate plot against civilization?

‘How to Write a Really Rotten Novel’ (2015)

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I am re-running this post as a public service.

How to Write a Really Rotten Novel

It’s not everyone who can produce a really rotten novel. Indeed, it’s a gift. But if you’re shooting for sheer unreadability, these few pointers will surely get you started. And it’s no use complaining that certain individuals have gotten rich and famous by writing pure dreck.

Now I wonder–who could we say is (or was) the Cervantes of the truly rotten novel? Any suggestions?

‘How to Write a YA Best-Seller’ (2015)

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Note the black belt. That’s one deadly nine-year-old.

Wanna buy some prime Florida swampland?

Having read and reviewed so many of them, I now know how to write a Young Adults best-seller. But what excuse could I ever have to write stuff like this?

How to Write a YA Best-Seller

Lots and lots of power over other people isn’t good for anyone, regardless of age. Offering it to children is just plain crazy.

But I also monitor the news. And correct me if I’m wrong–but aren’t there suddenly a lot of supposed adults out there taking their marching orders from children?

It can’t possibly turn out well for us.

‘In Defense of Plain English’ (2016)

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One of the worst books I’ve ever tried to read. But I wasn’t getting paid to read it, so I stopped.

In writing dialogue, especially in a fantasy or a historical novel, there has to be a happy medium between “I feel ya, dude” and “Yea, forsooth, thou barkest up ye wrong tree.” That happy medium is plain English.

In Defense of Plain English

Yes, I know–tons of books have been published in which plain English is simply not to be found. Some of them have even been best-sellers. But that doesn’t make them any less abominable.

Someday our age will be called to account for Robert Ludlum and Jean Auel; and it won’t be pretty.

‘Literary Crimes’ (2015)

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Maybe it’s old-fashioned to insist on certain standards in the art of fiction. But what happens when you chuck those standards out the window–ugh!

Literary Crimes

No one who has ever tried to write for publication has been able to avoid being mystified by the abundance of really awful stuff out there. This will continue to mystify us till the end of time.

But then we wouldn’t know what literary crimes are, if they didn’t get published so often.

The only thing I haven’t seen is a good writer purposely trying to write dreck, thinking poor quality is the key to achieving publication.

They Can Do… Everything

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So we’re watching this TV show last night, Primeval, and these two paleontologists, guys who dig up and study fossils, suddenly grab a pair of motorbikes and dart all around the parking garage, chasing and being chased by raptors. They just know how to maneuver a motorbike at high speed among parked cars. In fact, they just know how to do wheelies. Both of them know these things. Instinctively. Up until that point in the series, we never saw hide nor hair of motorbikes. And now they’re doin’ wheelies. It’s very effective against raging dinosaurs.

How many times have we seen this in movies and TV shows? Some wispy little Barbie snatches up a .50-caliber machine gun and mows down the zombies. Joe Hero jumps into an unguarded helicopter and just takes off. Heavy machinery, high technology, advanced weapons systems–it’s all the same. Whatever special ability is suddenly called for in the script, the character in that scene has it. No one ever just doesn’t know what to do! “Old man Can’t is dead!”

Pity me. If I were being chased by Velociraptors, you could have 50 motorbikes parked in a row and I wouldn’t know how even to get one started, let alone zoom around like Steve McQueen, doin’ wheelies. First I would have to be taught. Then I’d have to practice. No time for that in a movie!

I consider this a literary crime, and pledge myself to try as hard as I can to avoid committing it in any of my novels. Your money back if I can’t do it!