Monday, March 19, 2007

The first Pre-Pub Review!

So it's that time again. Time to wait nervously on what the trade reviewers are going to say about the upcoming book, Acacia: The War with the Mein. Honestly, one never knows how others are going to respond. No matter how confident and proud you feel about a work, there's no guarantee that others are going to agree for all sorts of reasons. So it's with great pleasure that I read the first of these early reviews today. It's from the March 15th Library Journal. Here's what they said...

Leodan Akaran wants only to be a devoted father and political reformer, but his Acacian empire is based on forced labor, drugged pacification, and a dark deal that trades children into slavery. His chance for reform ends abruptly when the Meins, a fierce people subjugated by the Acacians, revolt through assassination, warfare, and biological terror. The four Akaran children scatter to their respective hiding places-and destinies-around the empire. Historical fiction writer Durham (Pride of Carthage ) successfully turns to epic fantasy in a series opener that combines the moral ambiguity and brutality of George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire with Guy Gavriel Kay's emotional sweep and Ursula K. Le Guin's ethnic diversity. There are a few false notes as the book moves to its climax (e.g., monstrous beasts stopped through mass battlefield nudity!), but readers will be excited to learn whether the children retake and reform Acacia or are sacrificed to bring the Meinish ancestors back to bloody life. Recommended for all libraries that collect fantasy fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/07.]-Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA

Needless to say, that's wonderful. I'm especially stunned that he wraps me into a sentence with Martin, Kay and LeGuin - three writers I deeply respect. So, I'm very, very pleased. I don't even mind that battlefield nudity slight. It's a strange scene, granted, but I like it!

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Blogger Scott Oden said...

An excellent review, David! Congrats! I've always hated waiting for those first reviews (especially the important ones like Library Journal or PW). Part of me, sometimes a large part, invariably starts in with the negativity: you should have reworked this scene or that, that wasn't the right image you wanted to convey, no one's going to get you . . . just thinking about it makes me want to stab the voices in my head with a Q-tip just so they'll shut up!

The torture is usually worth it, though (of course, I won't get into my hatred of amazon reviews . . .)

Congrats, again! I'm looking forward to reading Acacia!

11:57 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

David, That's great for first reviews. Congratulations! Nice to know the ARCs serve their purpose - to create interest before the release.

BTW, I bought the ARC on EBay. Because I could, I'm evil enough to snatch it out from under other bidders, and I was curious. It didn't even come in a brown paper wrapper... :)
I'll still buy a REAL copy, and still won't be able to read it until June at this rate... life tends to pick up steam in the spring.

12:47 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Stab the voices in your head with a Q-Tip? A Q-Tip? Good to know that you're unlikely to do yourself any real damage. And, yes, the torture is worth it. Amazon reviews are problematic - they can be written with such ignorance and animus (these usually seem to go together) - but I think those ones get balanced by enough thoughtful voices. That's what I'd like to believe, at least.


You bought an ARC? Well, thank you. And I'm glad you can't get to it before June. By then the real one will be out, sans typos. (Or, sans most of them.)

You know, I'm still a bit stunned at the sentence in the review that includes Martin, Kay and LeGuin. I've got that memorized and it keeps emerging to the front of my mind. This glee won't last long, though. Soon the doubts return. The hurdles yet to come appear in the distance once more. Ah, well. What can you do?

10:23 AM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

Told you I'd rather read the sans typos edition. :) It's also my sense of fair play. If I'm not meant to read it until June, I won't.

Why do writers obsess on the negative? Is it because no one stands up and applauds when we walk in the room? *g* That reading is such a personal thing, and we can't hang over a reader's shoulder explaining ourselves?

I thought I'd hate reading my poetry to groups, but I love it because I can tailor my 'performance' to the audience's reactions. I can intro poems in a way that makes the audience more receptive, etc. But if someone frowns or seems impatient, I zone in on them rather than everyone else who is smiling or nodding. Go figure.

There's got to be a psych paper in this somewhere. :)

11:00 AM  
Blogger Scott Oden said...

Well, I don't actually want to hurt my head, just the voices in it (a Q-tip is like a wooden stake to disembodied voices, by the way) ;)

What bothers me about amazon reviews are those that are posted by people who haven't read the book! If you get 20 or 30, the numbers will eventually balance out. If you only get 8 or 10, it can be disastrous. I'm still on the 'under 20' side . . .

Constance, there's a book called Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner that goes into the psychology behind the writer. Ms. Lerner is an editor and agent who has quite a lot of first-hand knowledge on how 'we' tick. It's one of my favorite writing books (though it's not really a how-to, more of a what-to-expect).

1:14 PM  
Blogger Gabriele Campbell said...

That's a great review. Martin and Kay are some of my favourite writers.

Mass nuditiy? Well, Roman sources have it that Germanic (and sometimes Celtic) women cheered their men on by waving their bare boobs. The motive appears so often and even makes into a text from the times of Charlemagne where the feat is ascribe to the heathen Saxon women, that I suspect it's a literary topic rather than a fact, but it's a fun image, nevertheless.

have you taken a course in evilnes from Scott's Orcs? :)

6:30 PM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

Sounds like I need to get over to Amazon and post some reviews. (Memnon, *cough*) I've been remiss...

I will have to check out Forest for the Trees. Sounds very interesting.
David, if it makes you feel better, I once had someone review my poetry and take me to task over my use of punctuation. I think the "battlefield nudity controversy" sounds far more exotic than "to semicolon, or not to semicolon". :)

Gabriele, it is so Scott's fault. His evil Orcness permeates the blogsphere and strikes pudding in the heart of all gnomes...

10:55 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey, thanks for all the comments. A brief response as I'm doing a presentation today at the Smithsonian and I'm stressing...

Why do writers obsess on the negative? I've no idea. It makes no sense. I have a box full of great reviews from all sorts of reputable publications, but any dork on Amazon can sweep all that aside (temporarily) with a negative review. It shouldn't matter at all - and it doesn't matter in any real terms - but it has an impact. Maybe it's tied in with Steven Pressfield's idea of resistance. Giving credence to someone who you shouldn't give credence to, latching on to the negative with dread, but maybe also with the touch of that force that makes you want to give up. In which case the actual reviews aren't important at all. Those reviewers are likely dealing with their own failings by lashing out at others. That's their resistance talking. So we really shouldn't listen. But that's easier said than done.

The mass nudity... It's not something I can explain without giving away plot points. I will say, though, that it's nudity for both genders, in the tens of thousands. I'd like to see how they deal with that if anybody ever films the thing... At the very least, it's a great distraction from things like semi-colons.

And that book does sound interesting, Scott. A lot times I feel like I want my students to read books about the writing life instead of just craft books. Too often I think programs teach you how to write, but not how to be a writer.

There, that wasn't such a brief response. But now I'll go back to stressing...

9:34 AM  
Blogger Scott Oden said...

Look at them malign my poor Orcs! I tell you, we're a peace-loving people, ever ready to embrace our pudding-hearted gnome neighbors . . . mmmmm . . . pudding . . .

I've read Lerner's book time and again, written 2.5 of my own, and I *still* don't actually feel like a writer. How weird is that? David, you're a writer; Pressfield is a writer; Martin, Kay, and LeGuin are all writers . . . I'm just, well, me. A slacker with an avid interest in fantasy and history who somehow convinced a high-ranking publishing exec that I know what I'm doing (even when I really don't). I feel a blog post about this topic coming on . . .

12:43 AM  
Blogger Constance Brewer said...

I think the question has mutated into; "How do you measure success as a writer?" which then could break into Other people's measurements and My measurements. Pondered a bit on John Gardner and his book "On Becoming A Novelist" on my blog. He addresses negativity. I have no answers so far, just more questions. What else is new?

David, have you recovered from your stress yet? I would stress just walking through the doors of the Smithsonian. So much to see-- Not enough time-- But to actually speak there? Cool! How did your presentation go?

1:22 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Yes, but, Scott, you can't know how often any other writer is plagued by the same doubts or identity issues. And the point is that you're getting it done. That's what makes you a writer. I know a whole lot of people out there call themselves writers and don't get it done, don't stick with it on a daily basis and stake everything on a pursuit of such dubious security. You're doing all that - and succeeding at it. So, face it, you're a writer, dude.

Constance, I'll pop over and check out your post a little later. I'm just off the plane from DC. All went well. Actually, the stress level decreased once I was there. I realized 1) I had my presentation ready - complete with a computer-aided slide show - and 2) saw that the host - an archeologist - was on my side and 3) was assured the audience would be enthusiastic and there to have an enjoyable time. And that's what happened. Whew...

A cool thing to note on the side is that I got a lot after-the-presentation questions about Acacia. Hmm... Seems like people are interested.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

If there were more nude soldiers as a battle strategy, perhaps there would be more love and less war!

9:59 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Too true. Let it be known that those thousands of nude men and women on battlefield are all quite fit, sweaty and sun-burnished. I actually think it'll be a crowd pleasure of sorts...

11:21 AM  
Blogger Scott Oden said...

You know, a love of nudity didn't really derail the Greeks from their beloved seasonal campaigning :)

Plus, I don't even want to imagine what happens when the dangly bits meet cold steel . . . [shiver].

4:08 PM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...

This is all really interesting, and congrats David on a fine pre-release run of interest, but I just can't get past this idea of mass nudity and semi-colons.

I'm feeling inspired now.

By the way, has anyone read Ayn Rand's books on writing? I liked the practicality of Stephen King's 'On Writing', but have become very attached to Steven Pressfield's 'War of art'. Resistance is everywhere.

Many writers' first books are about writing. Aren't they?

10:00 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


In the case of this particular, much talked about scene, it's not so much cold steel and the dangly bits... It's more the dangly bits in close proximity to the dangly (and not so dangly but equally private) parts of one's comrades - all at the mercy of giant, marauding, wart-hog like creatures with massive tusks and plate armor. I think, actually, that in the moment one’s dangly bits are not foremost of concern - if you can imagine that.


Hey, I want you to be inspired. And, geez, I can't imagine what years abroad in Asia and the Antipodes is doing to your growth as the next great Scottish writer... Although, actually, it's an island, isn't it? So getting off for a bit - as you've done in style - is surely part of the portrait of the artist as a young man.

I like King's and Pressfield's books also, but what's this about Ayn Rand? Is it okay to read Ayn Rand these days? And what's her take on instructing writers? I'm curious, in a strange sort of way...


10:43 PM  
Blogger James McLauchlan Johnston said...


No idea what Ayn Rand has to say about writing, but I am also curious.

Season is coming to an end at the Rangitata, although I am now nicknamed 'flipper' as I lead the flip chart with 7. The river is still spanking me.

At the beginning of May we move to a beach-house (house sitting for Emily Coven's fiance's mother who is going to their wedding in Yosemite) near beth and nick. There will be some space and time for writing I hope.

This time in Asia and NZ has definitely sharpened my senses, giving me that outsider perspective.

Sounds like we may see you next January in NZ? I really hope so.

Just finished Umberto Eco's Name of the rose. Couldn't read it without hearing Sean Connery's acshent.


10:28 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


That "outsider perspective" is so important. In a way I think all writers should feel like outsiders of some sort. My time in Europe did a great deal for my understanding of the world. It's shaped my themes - in obvious and subtle ways - ever since.

Seven flips? Seven? Way to go, Flipper. I hope you're pulling in big tips for all that action. Do they tip for extra carnage down there?

And yes, I think we should be able to do a New Zealand trip next winter. Looking forward it.

10:43 PM  

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