Bad Reviews

First bad words, now bad reviews. I’m not going to use any bad words about my bad reviews. A writer can learn from a well-thought-out bad review. The two bad reviews I got for the books I published on Amazon weren’t thought-out at all.

Whether a writer is traditionally published or self-published they’re bound to get bad reviews. A writer knows that any review is better than no review. Anything that will bring attention to your books.

“Bad” is in the mind of the reader.

Even better is for the book to be banned. Banning a book can be good for sales. There was a recent article in The Washington Post by an author who was highly indignant that his children’s book had not been banned. More than thirty years after it was first published Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel, Maus, hit the bestseller lists after it was banned in Tennessee. Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko humorously demanded that his book, Boss, about controversial mayor Richard J. Daley, be vilified and banned. These two writers understood the lure of forbidden fruit.

Books can be dangerous. They can open minds.

Dictators and wanna-be dictators understand the power of books. Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 because his writing displeased the Politburo. He was allowed to return home only after the fall of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn’s experience is almost the ultimate bad review. The ultimate bad review is getting executed for your writing as happened to Russian writer Isaac Babel.

This post wasn’t going to be about these writers, it was supposed to be about my experience with my own reviews. I’m nowhere near their class and the one-star reviews of two of the books I published on Amazon have done nothing to improve my sales. People have to know about a book before they buy it or demand that it be banned. I’ve done very little to publicize my books so poor sales are mostly my own fault.

The person who gave my books bad ratings is someone named Jennifer. She used the exact same words for both books: “I find it hard to understand why the author sympathizes with fascist leaders who spread baseless propaganda.” I copied her exact words from her one-star rating.

One of the books Jennifer rated is “The Dissident’s Wife” which is set in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during the mid-1980s. My story is about a dissident Russian poet who has been accused of sedition and anti-Soviet slander. Valery Mironov goes from being a respected and beloved people’s artist to a pariah who’s been diagnosed with “creeping schizophrenia” ( a mental illness recognized nowhere in the free world) and incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t mention any leaders in my book, let alone defend them.

The Dissident’s Wife is no longer available on Amazon. I unpublished it because it is now under consideration by a traditional publisher.

It’s obvious that Jennifer never read the book. She saw the hammer and sickle and had a knee-jerk reaction. It’s also obvious that she is ignorant of the difference between communism and fascism.

For Pete’s sake! They’re Christmas stories for children.

Beats me who Jennifer thinks is the “fascist leader” in this book. Santa? The grandmother whom her family brings from Latvia to the United States? Or perhaps the mother who thinks a piano would be a fine Christmas gift for her family, a gift they could all use. I suspect that the word “Latvia” is what triggered Jennifer’s one-star rating. Darn it, she didn’t even demand that the book be banned. Rats!

Fortunately, not all my reviews are one-star.

Latvian Stuff: A Hiatus

Writing about Latvian culture, traditions, and eccentricities has been a great deal of fun. My posts have received lots of attention, comments on social media, and even a bit of money. It’s also been a lot of work writing my essays, editing, and illustrating them. It’s not that I’m out of ideas, I have plenty more but blogging isn’t the only writing I do. During my six-day streak (today’s day seven) I’ve neglected my other writing.

“Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great.”
― Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

My novel in progress that needs editing and rewriting. As Wind to Flame is a historical romance that is set during the mid-19th Century, so it requires a lot of research, which is also fun. My heroine, Thea Lowell starts out as a bumptious girl and ends up as a nurse during the Civil War. Along the way, Thea falls in love with a rancher’s son, Adam Hastings.

My exiled heroine’s Bārta’s folk costume which shows up at a critical junction in the story.

The first two-thirds of A Home for an Exile’s Heart is available on Amazon Vella. The next chapter is finished but needs more editing before I can publish it. Exile is also a historical romance but it’s set in Seattle, Washington in 1952. The heroine is a widowed Latvian World War II refugee. Līvija Galiņa’s leading man is dashing former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn. I’ve left my readers waiting too long for the next chapter.

Phew!

Today I published a story for children called, A Pocketful of Kitten. Currently, it’s under review on Amazon Vella but should go live pretty soon.

“A Pocketful of Kitten.” A freebie read on Kindle Vella.

Did I mention that I also write short stories? I did. Not in this post, but in earlier ones. Anyone who’s interested can check under the category “fiction.” I’d like to write more short stories but my ideas have a way of growing like the magical beanstalk.

Then there are such minor annoyances as cooking and eating. I have the ingredients for borscht but who knows when I’ll get around to making the soup.

Oh,  look! I’ve managed to procrastinate on that pesky chapter of Exile. And I’ve been sitting at my computer so such a long time that it’s gotten painful. I need to break for chocolate.

A short story.

Becoming a Bilingual Reader Latvian & English.

For many people being a bilingual reader is no big deal. Nothing to blog about. They do it all the time. These days, with so many distractions, reading in just one language can be an issue. With all those audiobooks and videos online, why bother to read?

Reading doesn’t bring the same joy to everyone as it does to me.

One of my fond memories is sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from a book that I was going to take to a party and give to the birthday girl. I wanted the book but it had to go. Getting it read to me was the next best thing to keeping it.

Kriksis, the star of four books beloved by many Latvian kids. He was better than Lassie and Rin Tin Tin put together. Here Kriksis meets Tomiņš. They’re both Latvian refugees in Germany.

We were poor refugee immigrants who had to pinch pennies. Until I was ten my uncle lived with us. For a while, we lived communally with my uncle and my godmother, and her family in order to be able to afford rent. Nevertheless, we always had books in the house. I had lots of children’s books in Latvian and later in English. My parents bought Little Golden Books for me and even let me get comic books. They didn’t much care what I read, as long as I read.

“World of Wonders.” A book of fairy tales by the author of the Kriksis books.

During my early years in Tacoma, we lived only a couple of blocks from the library. My father and I would walk there to get books. When we moved to a different neighborhood farther from a library branch, we’d drive there together. In those days the local library system issued library cards in two different colors, yellow ones for adults, blue ones for kids. My little blue card was a proud possession. My dad would let me use his yellow card to get any book I wanted. I don’t recall reading anything shocking.

Unfortunately, I don’t have memories of my father reading to me the way my mother did. Was she the only one to read all those kids’ books to me? Both my parents probably read aloud.  When I learned to read well enough my father and I read Latvian books to each other for several years.  He’d read one chapter aloud to me and I’d read the next chapter aloud to him taking turns through the whole book. Most likely we got into this habit because I saw no reason to learn Latvian. We lived in America now and more than anything, except for a horse, I wanted to be an American. English was language enough for me. My father would have none of it. He insisted that I learn Latvian. The most fun way to do so was to read to one another.

This practice probably ended when he picked a translation of a Swedish book,  Black Horses, I think. A book about horses? YES! I want to read it. We read happily until one of the main characters got his eye put out. That was enough for me. I didn’t want to read any more of that book. By then, the habit of reading had been well established in me.  From then on, I chose my own books and read them silently to myself in my room.

An illustration by Alfreds Plīte-Pleita. “Herta is reading.”

Every year, the Latvian newspaper, Laiks, (Times) printed coupons called, “Book Dollars.” Still on his campaign to make sure I learned Latvian (I was a Latvian school dropout) my father let me use all the coupons to order any book I wanted from a Latvian publishing company called, “Grāmatu draugs” (Friend of Books) Tētis paid for the books. They were my gift for successfully completing another school year. When the books arrived from  “Grāmatu draugs” it was like Christmas in summer. As a result of my father’s generosity, during those years I read many novels by popular Latvian authors who’d immigrated to the US. The publisher who’d founded  “Grāmatu draugs” in Latvia in 1926, escaped the communist invasion in 1944, and resumed publishing, under the same name in Brooklyn, New York in 1951.

An illustration from “World or Wonders.”

I can still read Latvian, just not as well as I used to. There are too many books in English that I want to read, including ones written by Latvians.

Thanks to my father’s diligence in encouraging me in every way he could and demonstrating the importance of books and reading by doing his own reading, I learned to love reading in both languages.

My father wasn’t alone in promoting reading. I remember watching a TV quiz show aimed at teens. I can’t remember who their guest was, some academic, I think. When asked what the best way to get into college is he said, “Read, read, read.” I don’t think that necessity has changed, nor will it any time soon.

* **

I do intend to get back to Latvian diminutive but I had to write something different for a change.

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