Monthly Archives: March 2015

Narcissism and the one-star amazon review

By SR Staley

I received my first one star review on amazon.com a couple of weeks ago, my first in 47 reviews of my fiction. While I know my books won’t appeal to all readers, a one star is quite deflating. But then I looked at the larger picture, and I realized how narcissistic and impulsive the person posting the one-star review must be. Let me explain.

“Big Bad John”–yes, that’s his on-line handle–posted his review with the title “Save Your Money!” and basically trashes my newest novel, St. Nic., Inc., in four sentences. (He also didn’t buy the book from amazon.) I have no doubt this is his honest opinion of the book. And he is entitled to his opinion and post it on amazon.com. I have no objection with that.

But here’s the context: Big Bad John’s review was the 17th review. The lowest review before his was a 3 star, and these unenthusiastic readers wrote that the book was a “good seasonal read” and “a nice way to pass the time.” St. Nic, Inc. has 10 five-star reviews, seven of which were “verified” purchases from amazon.com. All the four and three-star reviews were verified purchases from amazon.com or the kindle store. So, BBJ has to either ignore all the other reviews, or believe his lone opinion was so superior to the others that potential readers should put aside everyone else’s views except his. I think this pretty much defines narcissism in the world of book reviews.

My biggest disappointment, however, was not BBJ’s displeasure although I do care what readers think. In fact, I incorporate their feedback–positive and negative–in my writing all the time. Rather, it was BBJ’s complete lack of content in his criticism. He had an opportunity to be constructive, but chose simply to trash talk the book.

Fortunately, I doubt Big Bad John will have much effect on my book sales. My book is better than he thinks, and I know that because the vast majority of the reviews on amazon are by people I don’t know. I have also won awards for my fiction.

I guess BBJ doesn’t want to be put on my Christmas card list.

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The unrocognized depth of the Divergent Triology

By Claire W. Staley

Popular books often become the target of criticism simply because they are popular. The dystopian, young adult novel Divergent by Veronica Roth seems to have fallen into this camp. Now that Roth’s books have become popular movies, earning more than $300 million worldwide, they seem to be the subject of even more criticism: Some say it’s just a story about a boy and girl who fall in love while they fight an oppressive regime. Some say it is too violent.

However, before denouncing Divergent and shoving it aside, perhaps it is more important than previously believed. This young adult novel taught me many things about life, and understanding this might change a society that looks down upon YA fiction novels. Here are just a few of my “takeaways” from these novels:

  1. Tris and Four, the lead characters, are equals. They support, love, and challenge each other in equal measures and they stand side-by-side. There is no love triangle (though I have nothing against these if done properly), and their relationship problems come from within themselves. This gives this particular book diversity from many other books.
  2. The enemy is constantly moving from one person to the next, from one group to the next, and from the good guys to the bad guys. Everyone is up for game and no one is completely innocent. Everything expands and retracts, gets larger and smaller, until you have no idea who is the actual problem and who is the solution. It challenges your critical thinking and frustrates you to no end- helping you realize that nothing in life is secure. Things and people change, and people aren’t always who you want them to be.
  3. Both Tris and Four are incredibly strong and real. They are role models because they make the hard decisions. They make the choices they must, and they learn how to deal with that and move on. They learn for to forgive-each other and themselves. And sometimes they have to put aside their personal ethics to do what has to be done. And it never gets easier. They do not get used to killing others. They understand and accept that they must make choices with no good outcome. When they are allowed to make choices that protect their hearts, they do. That makes them strong.
  4. People can change. And anyone can influence one to do so in positive or negative ways. Once you believe that no one can change, that no one can make different choices than those they made in the past, hope is lost, as is compassion. Love and understanding thread through the characters, even between enemies, and that makes a difference.
  5. People in power do not always make the right choices, and it’s okay to forgive them for making mistakes, but they are not always virtuous. They do not always make the right choices for the right reasons. They can be bad. They can be good. And the people are stronger than the government for a reason. Because the people are mostly good, and they thus are expected to uphold that. Everyone has an honor to themselves and to the people they live with. That honor must be upheld or chaos reigns.

Perhaps Divergent is really an educational novel, capable of teaching readers about, love, life, and people, and perhaps it is not just another book to read for fun. Divergent, like many YA books published these days, can be much more than light entertainment if readers give them the space to fulfill those aspirations.

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The social value of dystopian literature

by Claire W. Staley

After discussing dystopian literature with a wide variety of people, including college students and college professors, I have reached a conclusion: this genre is extremely important to our culture right now.

For one, it’s trending. From The Hunger Games to Divergent to Matched, it’s selling fast, which means people are buying. Why are we fascinated by this kind of literature? Why now?

With increased globalization bringing our world closer together, and smaller in the process, we are constantly being asked big questions. Significant questions. Questions that we may not be prepared to answer. Governments around the world are coming closer to home, and with them corruption and conflict. More than that, corruption and conflict within our own government is becoming publicized with increasing vigor by the media.

What does this have to do with dystopian literature? I don’t know about you, but I’m plagued by this question: what kind of governing body, if any, is the best pathway to a healthy and happy life and world? Do we believe in our own governing body, and thus try and implement it around the world? Or are we secretly Jeanine Matthews from Divergent by Veronica Roth, trusting our beliefs so much we are willing to sacrifice much more important things? I saw a quote the other day from Tom Hiddleston, the actor who plays evil Loki in the Marvel Comics Avengers movies, who stated that every villain is a hero in his own mind. Where do we draw that line?

Perhaps that is what dystopian literature is really about. Figuring out who is the hero and who is the villain, and if the two can even be separated. Maybe because, in this world where everything is so accessible, the lines between hero and villain are being blurred. Or perhaps we have just begun to question what we’ve always been told- perhaps heroes don’t have to be dressed in all white, and perhaps villains don’t have to be dressed in all black. Or perhaps we’re trying to figure out if we are, in fact, the villains after all. If we are the villains, perhaps reading these books can show us the pathway to heroism.

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