Lessons Learned from the Hell Yeah!/Dear Author Madness

Or, where do I go from here?

Jane at Dear Author is amazing. The Dear Author reader community seriously Kicks. Ass.

Little Tales of Misogyny by Patricia HighsmithI’m attempting to genuflect and suck up at the same time. Is it working?

I still can’t believe Jane published even one of the Hell Yeah! reviews, let alone all four. My stream-of-consciousness snarkfests weren’t (aren’t) even remotely close to the Dear Author brand she’s carefully built over many years, and I can only say that I’m honored to be even a teeny tiny part of her empire.

When I sent my guest review of Book 1: Cowboy Heat to Dear Author, it was purely in fun – the Simile Sex was just too hilarious not to share. I enjoyed writing that one so much I threw myself into the second book of the series. It wasn’t until I visited the author’s blog that I realized I had flung myself off the Cliffs of Romance Insanity. I couldn’t let it go. I just couldn’t.

And Jane let me drag the DA readers down with me. Unbelievable.

Thank you, Jane, for publishing my reviews and for your support of my rantings, and thanks a zillion times over to everyone who read the reviews and to those who took the time to comment (pro or con). Romancelandia ROCKS, and I don’t know what I ever did before I crossed the border into this weird and wonderful world.

[NOTE: My spellchecker suggested "necromancer" as a correction for "Romancelandia."]

For the record…..

Before I get to my Lessons Learned (see below – no new flowcharts this time, sorry), I need to state emphatically that I truly believe that ANY author who publishes ANY work of fiction is much, much braver than I am. It takes BALLS to write stories and let them loose in the world for readers like me to glom onto.

And despite my sometimes (oh, all right, often) rage-filled reviews, I include authors l didn’t connect with in my admiration. I love writing, but I know I could never muster the courage, commitment and skill to it takes to breathe life into characters, settings, plots and HEAs. Any writer who can arouse my interest and passion gets my applause.

Including – and especially – Sable Hunter.

She’s accomplished more as a writer than I ever have or ever will, and it’s obvious that she not only has found her niche with fans, but also listens and responds to them. She thanks every Goodreads user who posts a positive review, and beyond two “thumbs down” ratings on my vicious Amazon review of Book 3: Her Magic Touch, there has been NO backlash from her, her publisher or any of her fans. Zero.

All those reader-hating YA authors and their Flame War Fangirlz can take Classy Author Deportment Lessons from Sable Hunter.

That, of course, is making the huge assumption that she is aware of any of this.

However….

When I first ventured into the McCoy Joy Club, I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into – as a reader or as a reviewer.

Staging the Rage book coverI know all snark-mongers and book reviewers say this, but I am NOT a hateful person. I’m actually very laid-back, and I’m pretty tolerant of most things I read. I get twinges of guilt every time I give a one- or two-star rating on Goodreads. Seeing the Hell Yeah! reviews on Dear Author spiked my anxiety levels so high I thought I would have to up the dosage on my meds.

As I mentioned earlier, the first review was purely for fun. It could have – and should have – stayed fun. But my curiosity about the virginal heroines led me to the author’s website and blog, and I was stunned by what I found there.

Another FOR THE RECORD: I am referring to her author’s blog, NOT a personal blog. Anything I quoted or mocked was published as part of her professional persona as a writer of erotic romance. NOTHING I wrote or thought was directed at the person behind the Sable Hunter pseudonym. I also refrained from making comments on the visual aspects of her website and blog. The words alone provided more than enough targets for my Darts of Mockery and Dismay.

Virginal heroines? Go for it. But don’t make their virginity an excuse or a joke. It’s OK – and a good story – to have a heroine who has been “guarding her virtue” because of her religious beliefs (Avery in Book 3). It’s even passable – and a good story – to feature a virginal heroine overcoming a terminal illness (Libby in Book 1).

But I draw the line right there. The only other reason – and the only GOOD reason – to write a virginal heroine is because she has high standards and believes her sexuality is worth something.

It is NOT OK to inflict virginity like a disease on an ugly woman (Cady in Book 3) or a woman with disabilities (Jessie in Book 2).

It is NOT OK to make every non-virginal female character into a bitchy slut (evil ex-wife, magazine reporter, party-goer, etc.).

And it WILL NEVER – and I mean NEVER – BE OK to offer up female virginity as a “reward” for male promiscuity.

That sentiment – directly from the author’s blog – was something I never expected to see, and it Turned. My. Stomach. Every word of her books that I read after that was discolored by it. I read everything from that point on through the lens of misogyny, and those glasses were definitely not rose-colored.

An erotica author with a misogynistic double standard. I never ever ever thought such a thing would be possible. And I just couldn’t let that go without ranting. Loudly.

But wait – there’s more!

As if the virgin sacrifice wasn’t bad enough, the female protagonists in the Hell Yeah! series were infantilized, demeaned and humiliated. Repeatedly. All four heroines were portrayed as weak, childlike and completely unable to function in life without a man to guide them.

Medieval MisogynyThe Hell Yeah! heroines didn’t walk, talk or laugh. They scampered, skipped, tripped and flounced. They squealed and simpered and shrieked and giggled and groveled. And then giggled some more.

The Hell Yeah! heroines skinny-dipped in stock tanks, climbed out of windows in shame, fell head-first into bubble-filled bathtubs, toted their sex toys in cartoon-character luggage, glitterized their lady parts and melodramatically antagonized their homicidal abductors.

There was NO plausible reason to include ANY of that in the books other than to paint the heroines as hopelessly hapless and helpless. I don’t know how any author could justify such sheer volume of female ineptitude.

The Hell Yeah! stable of secondary characters featured a psychopath ex-wife, a journalist who worked her fake cleavage like a keyboard, and an ancient voodoo priestess who spoke in epigrams. These shining examples of womanhood were surrounded by bar flies, “buckle bunnies” and prostitutes.

NONE of the female characters in the Hell Yeah! alternate universe had lives outside the realm of men. The number of female characters presented as independent, self-sufficient or professionally successful was ZERO.

To me, that’s just contempt for women. Period. And that, my friends, deserves to be mocked. Repeatedly. And LOUDLY.

Lessons learned….

I’m very new to book reviewing, and I’m still struggling with finding my “voice” and finding the right balance between constructive criticism and obnoxious attempts at juvenile humor. I take refuge in profanity and deflect my lack of literary expertise with pop culture trivia. I have a profound and incurable weakness for alliteration and run-on sentences.

But alongside my flaky and immature writer veneer, I have a geeky analytical side. Ever since the first Hell Yeah! review was published, I’ve been analyzing and pondering and obsessing over the reaction. If I didn’t already feel like the world’s biggest leech, I’d beg DA Jane for her feedback and web stats. The whole thing – as a reviewer and a writer and a reader – has been fascinating.

In the hopes of being becoming a real reviewer like my [unknowing and unwilling] mentors on the Dear Author crew, I’m trying to force the Geek to take precedence over the Flake for just long enough to let the lessons sink in.

Flowchart: Are You a Misogynist?Here’s what I’ve learned (so far):

Flowcharts are good. The Are You a Misogynist Flowchart image version was viewed nearly 500 times, and that doesn’t include the stats for the PDF version. I’m considering making that my gimmick because then I can add “Romance Analyst” to my resume.

Self-editing is bad. I know, I know. DUH. DOUBLE DUH. The first two reviews were written at leisure, and I asked friends and family (thanks, Lynn!)  for feedback before I sent them to DA Jane. The last two – the ridiculously long, revoltingly self-indulgent ones – were the result of frantic all-nighters because I felt compelled to live up to the sudden and overwhelming expectations of the DA readership. I was too enamored of my own cleverness to ask for editing, and it showed. If I could, I would cut huge chunks out of all four reviews, especially a lazy and [truly unintentionally] offensive analogy that I’m still cringing over. Yes, I’m a dumb shit.

There is NO MERCY for misogynistic double standards in romance. Not that I expected anything different, but the scorn for “virgins as reward” and incessant humiliation of female characters was universal. Thank GOD I’m not alone in Romancelandia in thinking that shit is FUCKED. UP.

There is NO MERCY for lazy authorship. I thought *I* had professional pride as a Writer of Boring Corporate Stuff and Bad Book Reviews. Fiction writers guard their domain with a vengeance. Not that I expected anything different, but the most vigorous defense of my right to mock came from other authors – who stated my case much more eloquently than I ever could. Thank you. I feel vindicated. And humbled.

There’s a very fine line between mocking a book and bullying the author. I know – TRIPLE DUH. But holy crap, is it hard to find sometimes. A few commenters were put off by the perceived cruelty of my reviews, but I stand by them for reasons stated above. I worked VERY hard to keep my focus on the words and characters, and I hope I was successful. I doubt I’ll be driven to such extremes again, but if I ever cross the line at any point, I hope someone points it out so I can apologize and avoid it in the future.

Food for thought. But it’ll have to wait in line behind my belated supper of Diet Coke and M&Ms.

5 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the Hell Yeah!/Dear Author Madness

  1. I thought your reviews were hilarious! And I agree totally with you about the misogynistic tone and characters being oh, so wrong for a romance written for readers in the 21st century! If you must have all females as virgins or prostitutes, at least set the books in history sometime, so it’s more plausible. And I thought your snark was just right and well-deserved.

  2. Des Livres says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. I thoroughly enjoyed your last couple of reviews. You based all your criticisms and concerns on real material from the books and the author’s blog, and your reactions were clearly spontaneous and genuine which was part of the fun.

    Of course you hold yourself and your public work to high standards, and will always strive to do your best and improve, but if those last couple of reviews were basically first drafts, … wow. I hope you keep your spontaneity – it conveys the enjoyment you get from reading and reviewing. Those reviews are gems.

    The Sable Hunter stuff is so extreme, it really does require an extreme response. I was left wondering whether Sable Hunter was male quite frankly.

    And yes, your reviews a little different from the normal fare of Dear Author (oil painting compared to water colour) – they are more like Smart Bitch reviews – one of my favourite websites.

    Don’t water yourself down. There are plenty of moderate book review blogs out there. If those reviews reflect who you are and how you react to what you read, that’s who you are. I hope you work out a way to put all your vim and vigour into positive reviews as well, and more neutral reviews – you know, books that are sort of a C.

  3. Darlynne says:

    Kelly, what I liked best about your reviews–besides the humor, minute detail and reasons behind your conclusions–was your outrage on behalf of a genre you clearly love. Contrary to what you’ve said, It is much harder to write a review of a bad book because you have to care enough to go through the agony of doing so and explain why. You have to care enough to keep reading in the first place when doing so sucks your soul dry.

    I haven’t read these books and never will. I was so angry about the author’s portrayal of women–even filtered through the safety net of your reviews–that I know I can’t and stay sane. Did you go too far? Honestly, the books appear to have gone so far and so badly I’m kind of surprised you didn’t say more, at the same time I appreciate your restraint in not wading into deeply personal territory. That you were able to bring the snark and your brilliant brand of humor to four books is a testament to your skill.

    I enjoyed your contributions so much. Frequently, especially at SBTB, I’ll see comments from readers who laughed their asses off over something that barely produced a smile from me. Your reviews of the Hell Yeah! debacle, on the other hand, made me howl with laughter. For that alone, I will always be a fan.

  4. julaine says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your reviews and appreciated the service you performed by actually taking such an in depth look a series of books I simply would have dismissed as being Wallbangers and never given another thought about in the endless sea of novels we as readers have to choice from. That these themes are still published and still have a devoted following of enthusiastic fans is baffling in this day and age.

    On the issue of the criticizing an author’s personal beliefs versus the beliefs espoused within a work her or she has authored a reviewer can embark down a slippery slope as a previously stated in my comment on Dear Author, however I think your remarks were successfully navigated for two reasons. First, the author inserted herself into the story therefore piercing the fourth wall and offering herself and her motivations for scrutiny and criticism. Secondly, by openiy blogging about rewarding an idealized hero with feminine chastity like it was a prize he was due and thus her value was as a commodity and the value of that commodity was greater by virtue of her ignorance. Such a provacative statement on its face demands intelligent debate if not outright rebuttal. If the hero was gay would Miss Hunter also believe that Mr. Right should also be “minty fresh”, never been touched, lugging a plastic practice banana in a Miss Kitty tote bag?

  5. sofiehatter says:

    I agree with the above comments. Your reviews were a joy to read and I hope you continue. Thanks for the fun.

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