Stephanie Burgis
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reviews, time, and a new start
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I've been reviewing books for Interzone for about a year now. Overall, it's been a pretty good experience. I've gotten to read some fantastic books - I absolutely loved Sarah Micklem's Firethorn, and I really enjoyed Mike Carey's The Devil You Know and Vicious Circle, both of which I might never have discovered if I hadn't been sent them for review. And overall, who can complain about getting free books, right?

The only problem is...well, I've been debating for a while whether I want to keep doing it, because what really, really sucks is when I have to write negative reviews. If I figure out within the first chapter that I hate a novel or am just not the target reader for it, I can send it back, but if not - if it's only in the second half that it goes wrong for me - then I'm stuck writing an honest review. Which is, clearly, the right thing to do. And yet...

The writing field is so small that inevitably I do meet (or have friends who are friends of) most of the writers whose books I review. And sometimes I really, really like them. Recently, I started a book, loved the opening, and ended up meeting the author at a con. She was fantastic, I really liked her, I went on to read the rest of the book with great enthusiasm...and it stopped working for me about a third of the way through. And I felt really stuck. Because I know how much it hurts when I get a bad review for a short story, how sickening it feels to think of other people reading that bad review, and I don't want to be the person who makes that happen for another writer.

The end of the story is, of course, that I wrote an honest, mixed review. I said all the things I really liked about the book, but I also explained why about half of the book hadn't worked for me. And my review got published in Interzone, with one of the harshest lines from the review highlighted in big bold letters. And I cringed. It wasn't that I didn't believe what I had written...but I didn't want to be the one writing it.

Which maybe just all goes to show what a wimp I am (another realization I don't much enjoy). But when it comes right down to it, life is short, and if I'm not enjoying this - if I am enough of a wimp to hate writing negative reviews of books I don't like - then maybe it's not the right thing for me to do with my time. I don't know. I haven't made up my mind yet...but that's the way I'm leaning right now.


In other news, it's been a really good weekend. Yesterday we went for a long, misty walk in the forested valley by our house, and also did a big shopping trip for new work clothes for me (not as fun as buying casual clothes, but still a good idea). We spent some time in the cafe just chatting and reading books, and we watched an episode of Jeeves & Wooster in the evening. And best of all (drumroll please), I started my new Swedish historical werewolf novel! Eeee! I am enormously excited about it, especially because I've just started, so it feels full of possibility. And I have to confess, I have always, always wanted to write a werewolf novel...Now all I have to do is figure out a possible title that hasn't already been taken!

(The good news is, this one doesn't actually need the word "Shadows" in the title, since it's not in the same 'series' as the other two. Masks & Shadows and Congress of Shadows were both predicated on the idea of "secret history", where they took place in our own history, and magic happened but was covered up from public knowledge. This one...well, it's werewolves, right? I'm just going all out and admitting that it's alternate history.)

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