Coming to Terms with Book Reviews

Sexy Games by Jeffe KennedyBy Jeffe Kennedy

This is the cover for the Italian translation of my erotic romance, Going Under. I love it so hard.

A girl never forgets her first translation. :-)

A little known fact about me (I think) is that I spent many years studying martial arts - primarily Chinese internal styles. I still practice some of the arts on my own, but no longer study with a school. It was a valuable experience on many levels and most recently fun to play with as I created a martial system for my warrior heroine, Ursula, in my upcoming release (May 26), The Talon of the Hawk. The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe KennedyWith Ursula on my mind - particularly as I'm starting the fourth book in that series - I've mulling over the metaphor of knife-throwing.

Yes, I learned how to throw knives as part of the training I did, including a shuriken, which I confess I keep on my desk and have a tendency to toy with on annoying conference calls. One thing my teacher said about knife-throwing is that it's important to learn to enjoy the moments you DON'T stick the knife in the target as much as the moments you DO.

Counter-intuitive, yes?

Now, my teacher got any number of things warped and wrong (don't get me started), but I think he had something there. A lesson I've yet to fully internalize. See, it's very easy to get focused on success. Learning to throw knives can be an exercise in frustration - all those times the knives miss the target, barely stick and fall away or, the worst, bang loudly and ignominiously flat before bouncing off. When you manage to get it right and *really* stick the point deep in the wood, it's... satisfying. Even thrilling.

But my teacher's point is along the lines of the journey being the valuable lesson, not the destination. Viewed that way, it's irrelevant whether the knife sticks, because it's the process of throwing that's important.

I think about this - especially lately - when one of my books gets a less than five-star review. And yes, I confess I'm one of THOSE people who see anything less than five-stars as not-quite-good enough. It's the grade that's not an A. It's the room for improvement. It's the knife that kinda sticks but then falls away.

A five-star review, in contrast, feels as thrilling as the perfect throw with the point buried solidly deep. Every time.

And yet... I *know* I shouldn't feel this way. In my heart I know that the reviews and ratings are just part of the destination, that it's the writing, the journey that truly matters. Most of the time this works for me - diverting myself back into the work, focusing on the writing and what it means to me, where it takes me. In fact, that this is on my mind at all right now is likely a product of having been between books for too long. I need to get Book 4 of The Twelve Kingdoms started. In a big way.

At any rate, I suppose this is my particular room for improvement. One of the many ways I need to grow and learn. I understand in my head that not everyone will LOVE my books, but I have a ways to travel to embrace the miss in my heart as much as the hit.

Time to throw some more knives.

The Perils of Writing Tribute Characters

Going Under CoverBy Jeffe Kennedy

My new novel-length erotic romance, Going Under, comes out on Monday, so I've been doing a lot of interviews and so forth, getting ready for that promo push. One question I get a lot is whether I've based my characters on anyone real, or who I know.

I try to give this a thoughtful answer, because I understand that readers are really interested in this idea. Characters feel real to us, so we always wonder, on some level, if they somehow are real. So I don't give them my immediate, heartfelt answer.

NO.

Never.

No way.

Not that I feel strongly about this or anything...

Okay, I do. I feel strongly about anything that gets in the way of the story. In my mind, the story should always reign supreme. All decisions should be about whether or not [X] makes the story better. While I suppose it's possible to base a character on a real person and still make decisions based on the betterment of the story, I think this is akin to getting back together with an old lover and kidding yourself that what happened to break you up before doesn't matter.

It's not really about what you're thinking now, but about all that emotion underneath, driving you when you're not really aware of it.

See, truly basing a character on a real person is nearly always driven by the desire to somehow memorialize that person, or otherwise work out persistent emotions tied to them. Usually intense ones. I've had several author friends who've wanted to do this - usually for someone close to them who died - and it just never works out well. The need to "serve" that person bogs down every other choice. Decisions are no longer about what's best for the story, but about that person.

Worse, it just never works out. Because, really, it's impossible to fully memorialize a complex human being by turning them into a character. No matter our characterization skills, no matter the nobility of the motivation, a character in a book can never be as fully realized as an actual human being. We'll always fall short in some way.

Then both the effort and the story have suffered.

For me, characters come together more like Method actors do it - by drawing on fragments of my own experiences. In this way, we can access pieces of people we know, pulling in those traits, thoughts, experiences or moments that we hold precious. But then the character becomes someone new, someone who is no longer that tribute character we tried to resurrect in fiction.

Better that they rest in peace.