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LIGHTNING REVIEWS and LETTER OF OPINION: Various Shorts from Dreamspinner Press

Dreamspinner Press had five shorts I was interested in this week, so I thought I’d do lightning reviews of them. And then I ended up ranting at the end of the reviews, ending up more like an Opinion Letter than anything else.

Russian Roulette by Alex Alder:
Jacob teaches martial art fighting in…somewhere in Texas. His new neighbor is worryingly reclusive, but then they finally meet and Jacob sees how gorgeous he is. They get together, go out a couple of times, have great sex, go out for three months, everything’s great. But because Nate still hasn’t let Jacob into his apartment, Jacob convinces himself that Nate is the Dallas Strangler, the local serial killer (who started in Dallas but is now wherever Jacob and Nate are). He reports him, the police raid the apartment (with Jacob in tow!), and Jacob realizes Nate is just an artist with genius but no self-confidence. Nate breaks up with him (no, really?!), but then the serial killers comes to get them.

This book was…strange. I was never emotionally connected to the characters. They seemed to be doing everything because the story needed them to, not because it was integral to their characters. And there was no relationship tension — they met, were attracted, got together, had sex, everything was great. Which is great in real life, but doesn’t make a good story. All the tension comes halfway through or more from Jacob’s ridiculous assumptions about Nate and Nate kicking him out afterwards (too right!). As a result, the sex was boring as hell (to me), and after Jacob’s betrayal, I didn’t really care whether they got back together. In fact, I thought Nate was right to kick Jacob to the curb and the fact that Nate took Jacob back because of the shared danger when the serial killer attached them both just made me think less of Nate’s self-preservation skills — maybe he should have been killed by the serial killer.

Grade: C-

Goodreads | Amazon | Dreamspinner Press

“New Tricks” by Kate Sherwood:
After I read this short, I did a bit of research, to find that this is a continuation of the relationship of previous characters. Aaron and Quinn are together, but Aaron was a virgin before they got together, so Quinn doesn’t really trust Aaron to know what he’s talking about when Aaron says that he loves Quinn. Quinn thinks that Aaron will eventually leave to sow his wild oats elsewhere, because he’s never had the opportunity to do that. This is a short little sex scene, in which Aaron takes complete control over Quinn. He ties him, blindfolds him, and effectively gags him so that when Aaron tells Quinn that he loves him, Quinn can’t qualify the statement and has to listen to Aaron, has to really hear what Aaron is saying.

It’s a cute little scene and works well as a stand-alone scene (I hadn’t read the original story). There’s an emotional component to the story, something that the characters need to overcome during or through the sex, an actual plot, with narrative tension, and deftly handled at that. I enjoyed it.

Grade: B-

Goodreads | Amazon |DreamSpinner Press

The Playwright by Carolyn LeVine Topol
Nick and Ken live together, gay playwrights writing successful plays for Broadway. Ken signs Nick up for The Male Room, an online dating website, because he’s worried that his friend (and they really ARE just friends) never gets out. Nick’s first hit on the website is Mark. Mark’s amazing. They hit it off immediately and fall in love.

So where’s the story? It’s manufactured whole cloth in the middle. Nick has an emotional crisis–literally between one line and the next, he does an about face on the relationship, feels it’s too emotionally risky, an about face that has no foreshadowing, no flicker of angst to warn of its coming. I had to read it three times to figure out what the hell was going on. But then THAT’S dealt with almost immediately and suddenly Nick has to worry about Mark’s job — he’s a hard-news investigative reporter who goes out chasing dangerous stories. But then that’s solved immediately…and you get the idea. I couldn’t tell the two main characters apart. There was nothing to distinguish them, neither of them had a personality to speak of, let alone any differences between them. (And they both had four-letter names, making it impossible.) The story was boring, the sex was forgettable, and the characters cardboard. Yuck.

Grade: D+

Goodreads | Amazon | DreamSpinner Press

And I gave it the D+ because it wasn’t as bad as the next one:

“Take a Dip” by Lacey Wallace
This one is really short, which is good, because it was really bad. Adam is 23 with a 7 year old daughter he takes to the pool at the weekend. He thinks he’s straight, but one of the lifeguards at the pool convinces him he’s not. The story’s full of emotionless, internal monologue info dumps about Adam’s life that are boring precisely because they’re emotionless:

He had become a teenage father at the age of sixteen; a girl named Cynthia was the mother. Although he didn’t want a kid, he had decided to do the responsible thing and be a real, involved father. Cynthia had brought their daughter to his house for an afternoon. Supposedly, he was only going to watch her for the day so she could look for work.

Cynthia never came back.

Adam later found out that she had moved away with her parents, leaving Denise with Adam. His parents had demanded he take the baby to an orphanage, but Adam refused. They threatened to kick him out of the house. Adam still refused, believing it was only a bluff. They followed through with the threat, leaving Denise and Adam homeless.

Luckily his aunt, who was estranged from the family, stepped in. Aunt Belinda was wonderful. She taught him how to care for Denise properly and baby-sat while Adam worked and finished his high school education, and then earned a B.A. in Business.

Like, really? Can we talk about the terror, the boredom, the resentment, the pain, the panic, the…whatever? That was just…awful. These are PEOPLE! In a ROMANCE NOVEL. Let’s talk about FEELINGS, please. Please? No…?

Anyway, we have to get it this background on Adam from infodumps because Mark the lifeguard isn’t interested in anything other than a quick fuck in the shower room. And that’s what they have, and that’s it, that’s the story. It’s bad writing with an attempt at character depth that just fails (Adam is angsty because he’s figuring out the gay thing, but really, despite having been a teen single father, he doesn’t feel anything deeply and his daughter isn’t even a plot moppet, she’s just a prop). And the sex is boring as hell except for the “ew, in the shower at a public pool, really?” aspect that I felt, not Adam. And there’s NO HEA or HFN. It’s pure stroke fiction and it’s not even really good for that.

Grade: D

Goodreads | Amazon | Dreamspinner Press

But! OMG, even THAT wasn’t as bad as…

The Godfather’s Lover by Ann T. Ryan
Chris grew up in an orphanage, we find out in a Prologue, and the only person who cared for him is a priest (not like THAT). The second Prologue shows us an 11 year old Jarod at his mother’s funeral, where, apparently, he finds out that A. she’s dead, and B. she committed suicide. Oh, and C. his father’s an asshole and a Mafia don (although not, like, Italian). Seems a promising start. We next find Jarod in the back alley of a club overseeing the execution of someone who betrayed him. Chris shows up and becomes a potential witness, so, to take care of him, Jarod fucks him through the wall. A month later, Jarod finally tracks his anonymous trick down, kicks out his own latest “kept man” (the cousin of a rival family), and starts keeping Chris. Who, we discover is actually an FBI Special Agent looking to take down Jarod because a mob turf war killed the priest. Right. Because FBI agents always get to work on cases their bosses know they’re emotionally connected with. They’re together for a YEAR, Chris never finds out anything worthwhile, he contacts his boss via EMAIL (oh REALLY?!), and he starts getting a conscience about betraying Jarod. In fact, he falls in love, quits his job, quits Jarod, and disappears to go teach math in, I’m not kidding, Saskatchewan. Where Jarod goes to get him. And everyone lives HEA. But back in LA, not in Canada.

And really, that’s all this story is: plot points. A happened, then B happened, then C and D and E. Oh, and someone might have felt something in there, but probably not. Chris does not angst about falling in love with a mob boss. Jarod does not angst about being a gay mob boss, nor does he worry about falling in love with his piece of ass. There’s no indication why these guys fall in love — we’re just told that they do — because, after all, there’s nothing to fall in love WITH. They have no personality. At all.

The prose feels like it’s written by a twelve year old or an ESL writer:

“Where is he?” Jarod asked into the phone, without preamble.

“I will get back to you, boss,” Mike replied.

Five minutes later, Jarod received a text message. Your boy is at Suede. His boy. Jarod liked the sound of that.

“Lee.”

“Yes, boss?”

“Drive me to Suede.”

“All right, boss.”

These guys talk like this ALL THE TIME. Very few contractions (“I will” especially, is NEVER “I’ll”), which is not how people talk. And the book is just full of this witty repartee.

And Chris feels bad about betraying Jarod:

Chrisd listened as Jarod spoke to him. Telling details that Chris had already committed to memory. Jarod wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. But the fact he was opening up made Chris feel guilty about the whole thing. Yes, Jarod was a mafia boss, with his fingers dipping in every illegal pie across the country and around the world. And yet, when he was with Chris, he was just Jarod. The hard walls Jarod put up outside would slowly crumble, revealing to Chris who Jarod Greene truly was, without the responsibility of a whole clan to take on. Chris felt bad, and that was a feeling that had eluded him in all of the cases he had handled. Somehow, Jarod had wormed himself into Chris’s heart, making the conscience Chris thought he had lost wake up.

Jarod’s a MOB BOSS. Who KILLS PEOPLE (although not personally anymore, so that’s okay). And CHRIS has the crisis of conscience?! Not ONCE does Jarod worry if he’s doing the right thing, wonder about what else he could do, have any sort of problem with his inherited position in life. Seriously, what have we come to in this world that an author could think that a man like this deserves the love of a good partner without serious emotional trauma on both their parts and some serious remorse and renegotiations of the mob boss’s life? CHRIS is the one who gives up his job at the end, not Jarod. Chris makes some half-assed protest at the end:

“I still don’t like your job description.”

“But you still like me?” Jarod smiled tentatively at Chris.

“Yeah, seems like I’m a sucker for a handsome man with grey eyes.”

Really?! You were an FBI agent and that’s all you’re gonna say? And really?! You’re an author and that’s the sum total of the consideration you’re gonna give to this issue, as if Jarod DESERVES an HEA?!

And! AND, guys, there was this scene when Jarod’s henchman was outside a cafe, watching Chris meet with his FBI boss (Chris is quitting, actually). Henchman recognizes FBI boss. Then POV goes to Chris, inside the cafe, who is ON THE PHONE with his boss. Then back out to henchman threatening FBI boss’s life in the cafe. SERIOUSLY?! No one noticed this issue?

Grade: F because this one seriously offended me, as well as being suck-ass writing.

Goodreads | Amazon | Dreamspinner Press

The Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL;DR) for the five stories: one was good, the others were awful. And good here isn’t anything unusual: I’m looking for a story that

  • can string a sentence together
  • can make characters sound real
  • can make characters feel real and make me care about them
  • can make characters act in consistent, character-worthy manner, rather than as puppets moved around by the plot without motivational rhyme or reason
  • has an emotional conflict present throughout the book with an arc of its own
  • has a plot conflict that the characters have to solve, that may or may not be the emotional conflict
  • doesn’t have huge gaping plot holes, discrepancies, or flubs
  • considers the emotional ramifications of character actions
  • considers the moral ramifications of character actions (and yes, that last one is VERY important when dealing with issues like FBI agents falling in love with mob bosses)
  • has non-boring sex, which means has sex that MEANS something to the characters, that overcomes something in them, that has some affect on them.

Seriously, writers, it’s not enough to tell us that characters do things. It’s not enough to have a cool hook, a really neat “what-if” to write about. The characters have to FEEL something. They have to have reasons for doing things. They have to be REAL, with faults and foibles and fucked-up motivations that they angst over and that make them act in certain logical ways for logical reasons that are explored. It’s ROMANCE, ffs. It’s all ABOUT the emotions. And if the characters go off the rails, they have to worry about why and how and what it all means. Romance does NOT mean cool “What If?” scenarios without considering the character ramifications. Neither is it Tab A and Slot B. Even good stroke fiction has to have the characters overcoming something emotional in order to have (or even while they have) the hot sex that gets the reader off. It’s precisely the emotional struggle that’s the arousing part.

And publishers, I guess you can publish whatever the writers write, and the writers can write whatever the hell they want, but readers don’t have to like it. In fact, we can despise it. And *I* despise it NOT because it arouses strong feelings in me, but precisely the opposite. I despise it because it’s sloppy and lazy and boring as fuck. (Except the Sherwood, who I have read before, apparently, and liked.)

If I didn’t take chances on authors I hadn’t read before, I’d never have found Heidi Cullinan (at Dreamspinner, btw) or Alex Beecroft or K.A. Mitchell or A.M. Riley or any of the other brilliant authors out there who I adore, or even the ones I enjoy whose books have issues now and then, good books and not so good books, but who at least TRY to write stories about real characters with real feelings and real dilemmas that actually have a narrative arc, angst, and resolution that actually means something. But this right here is why I don’t take that chance more often. These stories were insulting.

I’m off to read Cullinan’s latest again (for review) to cleanse my palette because I just can’t take anymore awful, boring, insulting stories for a while.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

31 Comments

  1. Sunita
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 06:51:09

    Yes, Jarod was a mafia boss, with his fingers dipping in every illegal pie across the country and around the world. And yet, when he was with Chris, he was just Jarod.

    Just Jarod. Does J own a chain of jewelry stores as well?

    This. Is. Awesome. As in awesomely bad.

    Seriously, Sarah, THANK YOU for this review and opinion. I have been ranting about DSP to anyone who would listen. I don’t even notice the bad characterizations half the time because I’m stuck on the infodumps, the padding, the overuse of tropes (why use one when you can use FIVE?), and the apparent lack of anything resembling content editing.

    Even the very good authors wind up with books that could have been so much better had they gone through a better publishing process.

    And yet, so many stories get 4 or 5 stars all over the place. I just assumed I was out of step.

    I’ve complained about the absence of conflict in some books before and readers have disagreed with me, saying they enjoy not having conflict. But I think they’re conflating conflict with angst or (for m/m) societal oppression. I’m talking about conflict as the thing that propels the plot, that helps character development, the thing the characters solve in order to earn their HEA.

    Obviously, I could go on for paragraphs, but I’ll stop here and reiterate my original point. Way to go, Sarah.

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  2. Mary Anne Graham
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 06:53:48

    Sarah: I couldn’t agree more about romance being all about the feelings. I’ve seen some of these attempts to relate alleged romance stories like a newscast. I think the trend was caused by people who took the old advice of “show, don’t tell” too seriously or interpreted it the wrong way. I read romance because it shows and tells.

    Just like head hopping (I’m addicted and don’t want to quit) – I love heart hopping. I want to read about the lead characters’ thoughts, feelings and fears as much as I want to read about how they act on them.

    I can watch a docudrama on TV. I don’t want to read one in a book I bought b/c I thought it was a romance!

    Thanks for the review and especially for the rant.

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  3. Teachsau
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 07:45:43

    I haven’t read it all yet – I’m still too busy laughing at the dialogue in The Godfather’s Lover. As someone who has taught ESL, yep, it reads like an exercise from an elementary conversation activity.

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  4. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 08:00:03

    @Sunita: Dreamspinner is definitely a serious offender here, but it’s not solely a DSP or a m/m romance problem. It’s a small e-press problem — gotta get out the required number of publications, so let’s ignore actual good writing and/or let’s not edit because it takes too much time. The thing about DSP in particular is that they had some brilliant authors start there, but most of the really great ones have moved on, looking for presses will actually edit them, not only line edit for typos, etc., but CONTENT edit. Good writers know that editors are GOOD for their work. DSP apparently doesn’t know that. But I do want to stress that it’s not just DSP that has this issue.

    And yes to “conflict” not meaning angst or oppression of GLBT expression. “Conflict” in narrative terms means something to push the story forward, something that makes me want to keep reading. While my love for my partners is epic, there’s been nothing in our lives that we’ve really had to overcome, nothing holding us back from loving each other, nothing that would create enough conflict to warrant a story about our relationship. So while I love watching two people fall in love, it’s much more powerful and worth reading if falling in love means overcoming some epic barrier, either external or, even better, internal. Watching two people fall in love when they have no barrier to their love is, frankly, boring. They have to LEARN something.

    @Mary Anne Graham: Don’t get me wrong, there are some authors out there (A.M. Riley in particular comes to mind) who writes in such a spare style that it’s almost like newscast. But she’s got such a deft, brilliant touch, that it’s still all about the emotions, NOT about the actions. You can see how the characters FEEL when they do something, it’s not just about the doing.

    @Teachsau: That really wasn’t the worst of it. There’s was much worse but I didn’t want to inflict it on y’all. :)

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  5. Lynn S.
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 10:38:22

    I imagine the comments here are going to entertain you more than most of the stories did. You stated the problem so well I don’t have anything constructive to add. I did want to say that I’m glad to know that when Adam was sixteen he was also a teenager. Otherwise I might have been confused. Wow, oh wow that was dry stuff, Sergeant Friday dry but without the iconic beauty of the voiceover. I have a conundrum for you. Without the awful bad would we get as much pleasure from the awesome good?

    @Sunita: Hate to burst your bubble, but it couldn’t be the same Jarod. The jewelry store is spelled with an “e” and I’m positive this author is all about the accuracy and authenticity.

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  6. CourtneyLee
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 11:38:48

    This is so unfortunate because I’ve gotten some real gems from Dreamspinner, like Zero at the Bone, anything by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (e.g., Caught Running), Ariel Tachna’s Partnership In Blood series, and Strawberries for Dessert (and related other stories) by Marie Sexton, among many others. But I also try to stick with their novel-length books (Hot Head by Damon Suede, my most recent DSP purchase, was great, VERY emotional, left me wrung-out and smiling at the end) and avoid the shorter ones. I wonder if they’ve had staffing changes among their editing staff, or if they only have one or two really awesome editors who take the cream of the crop and leave everything else to the newbies.

    I get tired of the no-emotion thing, too. I’ve read some seriously horrible “professionally edited” romance, both MF and MM, that read more like scripts with crappy dialogue than like prose. Then there’s the no copyediting problem where a college freshman taking a basic composotion class would have caught more grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes, along with the “seriously, people don’t actually talk this way” epiphany, than whoever “edits” the thing. If you’re going to ask for money for a product, please invest in basic quality control.

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  7. cs
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 16:50:41

    @CourtneyLee: I totally agree. I visit DSP all the time, because they really do have some great authors there. Did you read Abigail Roux’s “The Archer” a book I never thought I’d love, but that is one of my all time favourite books from that publisher.

    I can never get into Ariel Tachna’s writing, I don’t know I find her pace too slow and dense for my liking. I also enjoyed Damon Suede’s book too. I didn’t think I would with the porn plot line, but it was surprisingly entertaining. Though the love kind of got a bit obsessive for me.

    In response to the publisher’s short stories, I tend to avoid them unless Amy Lane has written them.

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  8. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:47:56

    @cs: Holy crap! The Archer is more than 500 pages! O.o I’ve got a Tachna book in my TBR pile. And that Suede book just looked ridiculous. Couldn’t bring myself to even start it.

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  9. Sirius
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 19:59:00

    Hm, I wonder if my comment ended up in the spam folder, trying again. I do think that Dreamspinner produces a lot of duds lately, but because I bought a lot of stories from them that I loved (definitely mostly novels), I still probably buy from them more than other publishers (although I think Loose ID is right there for me).

    I so agree on Russian Roulette. Jacob’s idiocy made me wanted for Ned to never take him back again. And I am so glad that I did not purchase Godfather’s lover. Thank you :)

    Playwright is a book three in the series, I believe. I have read second one and it was more than enough for me to decide not to buy any others which will follow.

    I have read Kate Sherwood’s longer story about Quinn and Aaron and really liked it, so will buy this one. Thank you for pointing this one.

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  10. CourtneyLee
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 21:03:16

    I thought the same thing about the Suede book, SarahF, and knew I was possibly wasting money when I bought it, but I was really curious. Luckily, I liked it much more than I thought I would. The porn aspect was, like cs said, suprisingly entertaining. I think it was handled well and though I expected to detest the pornographer (and he does come off as a bit creepy when you first meet him), he ended up being rather likeable. The love did get a bit obssessive and intense, but that was in character for the two leads and seemed to fit them well; I felt that their HEA was very believable. Something I liked the most about it was that, as two NYC firefighters who ended up at Ground Zero on 9/11, they were both still dealing with the emotional fallout from that day even a decade later and it remained a central issue to them as individuals and as a couple. I feel that this aspect of the book was handled very skillfully and it touched me deeply.

    I liked The Archer for all that it wasn’t a traditional HEA plotline and left me aching for a sequel. I also heard that it was originally slash fanfic, which I don’t like or read, but I had no idea until some time after I read it and someone told me (kind of like how I found out that Zero at the Bone was fanfic in that it apparently used the personalities of the two leads in Brokeback Mountain; a small disappointment, but I still love love love that book). I liked the variety of characters in The Archer, how they interacted and were distinct from one another, the sexual and emotional tension, even the slightly choppy feel to the pacing. It does feel like it goes on forever, and it probably has plenty of flaws, but I thought it was an enjoyable read.

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  11. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 21:24:44

    @CourtneyLee: Okay, I’ll check out the Suede. :)

    But honestly, the slash/fanfic thing is another reason I’m more and more leery of DSP. I don’t WANT to read slash/fanfic that’s sold as original fic. I really don’t. And I’ve just been burned too often not to be leery of everything I read there now.

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  12. Sunita
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 21:42:18

    @Sarah Frantz: I bought Hot Head in the Labor Day Fictionwise coupon sale. I couldn’t get through the excerpt when it was first released, but so many people think it’s great that I figured at 55% off I’d give it another shot. I’ll let you know.

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  13. Sirius
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 22:21:30

    @Sunita: Oh yes, I think Hot head is pretty great myself Sunita. :)

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  14. CourtneyLee
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 22:33:23

    @Sarah Frantz: I agree about the fanfic. I think if I’d known beforehand, with both The Archer and Zero at the Bone, that they were either fully or partially based on fanfic, I would not have read either of them. In the case of The Archer, it wouldn’t have been a big loss, but Zero at the Bone remains one of my favorite books of the last few years and I’m glad I fell in love with Jack and D without the pall of the fanfic label.

    I think the saving grace for both books is that I couldn’t identify them as fanfic without being told. From what I understand, The Archer was fanfic in that it used the names of certain celebrities, the “idea” of them, but not their personalities; Zero at the Bone, though I haven’t read whatever came before the published version, seems to have the two distinct personalities of the Brokeback Mountain leads, but not their situation, professions, or cultural backgrounds. There was a larger divide between the inspiration for the stories and the final products than I would think most fanfic has.

    Still, I’d rather not read fanfic presented as original fiction either. I know authors find inspiration in all sorts of places, but I feel like it’s a little dishonest to use other people’s creativity so precisely and not acknowledge it up front. But maybe Dreamspinner knew they had an awesome book with Zero and didn’t want to risk people shunning it because of its origins. Not quite sure how I feel about that idea.

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  15. Elena
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 03:09:47

    Taking inspiration from something and writing fanfic are two different things. Nobody would accuse Jim Butcher of writing Pokemon fanfic, would they?

    I have noticed the lacking consistency of quality of Dreamspinner titles as well. However, they are still my favourite m/m romance publisher. You can count on them to publish one great title a week – the problem is figuring out which one it is ;-) I usually check with Jessewave’s Reviews. They cover many Dreamspinner titels.
    What I also love about Dreamspinner is the diversity of their titles – they regularly feature heroes with disabilities and different ethnic backgrounds.
    And last, but not least their titles rarely wander off into erotica and porn, for which I’m grateful.

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  16. Cally
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 04:40:19

    Hi SarahF: I really enjoyed the reviews and rant but have a question or two as I’m feeling a little confused here (Though it is 2AM here so maybe my gerbil has stopped running;)

    re: comment 10. How the heck do you present fanfiction as original material, or more precisely how the heck does anyone know the story started out as fanfiction? (Is there a grapevine that I’m not connected to? lol)

    I may be stating this badly but I see good fan fiction as accurately representing the characters/ world/ideas from their source material. To me, an “original” work is far more then shoehorning in your fave characters and making them dance around in new clothing, so I see fanfiction with the names changed for instance as being unable to really stand up by itself because any changes/edits would make it more and more removed from the source… but then I keeping thinking that would make it an original work anyway? Like I said I may be expressing myself badly here, but I am intrigued by your comments.

    Re: 13. CourtneyLee, if you’d be able to clarify, in your opinion, how do you tell if anything is “partially” based on anything, or is that purely subjective? If someone writes another PNR Girl meets Vamp Boy/Wolf Boy, is it partially based on Twilight then? Just curious, mostly because my inspirations as a writer are generally so varied if any one asks what my inspiration was, I’d have to say five or six things usually if not more per story if I can even remember why I was drawn to writing about those character/that idea.

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  17. cs
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 09:13:26

    @Sarah Frantz: As Courtney said the book is non-traditional and has a cast of many. I would never have imagined that I’d love “The Archer” but it really worked for me. Honestly it’s just so much fun. Damon’s Suede’s book is a bit much at times, but the writing is actually quite good. Ariel’s books are a no go for me. I just cannot get into her writing style.

    @CourtneyLee: I never knew that about The Archer. It for me doesn’t change how much I loved it, and how well it is written. I’m very much a “traditional reader” so for me to love this book says a lot. I do get disappointed when I find out books were fanfic, but if it’s original slash fiction then that’s cool. So many authors in M/M write serial on their websites and the publish them. If it’s originally their work and was made free before, then to me there is nothing wrong with that. I use to read fanfic a lot then original slash fiction. I love it, so I’m not averse to it like some people. As I’ve grown up I hardly read it, but that has more to do with growing out of fandom, and having so much choice in published books.

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  18. cs
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 09:27:00

    @Cally: To be honest I’m a little confused as well. In response to “The Archer” especially because I’m not sure how that’s fan-fic. The author imagined certain actors being those characters. I mean just them physically. That’s not fan-fic. I’m sorry. Don’t all authors imagine what their characters are going to look like anyway? They have a vision in their head. I would get the point if somehow the author made their character BE the actor. Then again no one knows actors personally anyway, so it still wouldn’t matter.

    In response to Jane Seville. I don’t see any connection to her Brokeback Mountain fan-fic. Does anyone know if her fan-fic was an AU because only then I can be all ‘eh’ about the whole thing. If not then she must have changed a lot, and just took inspiration from the characters of the film. I’m not saying that’s fine, since those where someone else’s characters and you ARE publishing what is considered to be your own work. However, if there was an original out there I’d like to compare them.

    To me a lot of authors come from fan-fic backgrounds. Then move onto original fiction. I do agree that authors who publish fan-fic make me shake my head. The Jane Seville issue is one I’ve never been able to agree or disagree with. Mainly because I don’t see a connection, but I have seen authors write fan-fic and publish it word for word, only changing names.

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  19. Sirius
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 09:39:41

    @cs: See, I love everything else that Abigail Roux wrote, I think she is amazing, but I would like to pretend that she never wrote Archer. It has nothing to do with whether it was a fanfiction or not, I actually do not have a problem with unrecognizable AU fanfiction being published as original story, because to me unrecognizable AU fanfiction is pretty much an original story. I just felt that Archer was a mess. IMO of course.

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  20. cs
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 12:13:44

    @Sirius: Hand on heart that book should have never worked for me. But I really loved two of the main couples of the book. I thought it was entertaining, and I definitely respect your opinion. The Archer is far off what I’d read that I’m just amazed I loved it so much. I have to be honest when I started it, and the characters seemed to just randomly have sex, I did go WTF. But I powered on, and surprisingly enjoyed something so outside my comfort zone.

    Abigail Roux and her writing partner Ms. Urban are good writers. Definitely one of the best writers DSP have. I don’t read everything they write, but I do get excited when they do release books.

    I agree with you AU fiction is original fiction in the basis of the story. However the author is still taking someone else’s characters. The setting is ‘original’ though.

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  21. Maili
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 13:07:09

    @cs:

    Does anyone know if her fan-fic was an AU because only then I can be all ‘eh’ about the whole thing.

    Yes, seems to be AU. Last year or so, I saw Sarah Frantz and Ann Somerville on Twitter discussing whether a rumour about ‘Zero at the Bone’ was true and so I googled. I found MadLori(Jane Seville)’s fanfic author page. ZATB, Human Interest and Two Crows Joy are her BB fanfic. Confirmed here in MadLori’s October 2006 post at Brokeback Mountain fanfic message board.

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  22. CourtneyLee
    Sep 14, 2011 @ 14:21:16

    I think I’m probably using the terms “fanfic” and “slash fiction” improperly and/or I have an innacurate definition of them in my mind. For The Archer, I was told by someone who aften reads slash/fanfic that it was one or the other; I can’t for the life of me remember which term she used. All this talk of it is making me want to read it again.

    For Zero, I guess a better way to articulate my thoughts is that I found it disappointing that, despite the plot and story arc of the characters being completely original to the author, the characters’ distinct personalities and the pairing of them weren’t her idea. Here’s this awesome book, well written, well edited, that fully engaged my heart, but then I find out that one of my favorite aspects of it, how well Jack and D fit together as people, wasn’t the author’s idea. It was a bit of a let-down. Still, it doesn’t change how much I love the book or how many people I recommend it to. When someone wants to try MM romance, nine times out of ten I tell them to go to Dreamspinner and get Zero at the Bone.

    @Cally, I agree that inspiration comes in many forms and can be a combination of many sources and most of the time shouldn’t be considered anywhere near unauthorized fanfic. For your specific example (human girl meets vamp boy/wolf boy), I wouldn’t say it was “based on” Twilight, but I think at this point, a lot of people would see the parallel and infer that the inspiration came from a recognizable source. From there, though, I think that the direction it goes has a lot to do with whether it’s considered “based on” said original source. Kind of like how both Lara Adrian and JR Ward both started out with a group of male warrior vampires living in a secret compound. A lot of people noticed and commented on it, but regardless of how the similarity came to be, the two series went in two very different directions with such vastly different takes on where vamps come from (as a dedicated BDB addict, I feel a little disloyal when I say I think that Lara’s alien origins idea is way cooler than “the Scribe Virgin did it” LOL) that it would do both authors a disservice to say that they weren’t being original or that one series was based on the other.

    Another awesome book (novel, naturally) from Dreamspinner is Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy. Whenever I hear that someone is curious about MM romance but isn’t sure about reading about two guys having sex, I point at this book. Such an emotionally satisfying read. Though I do wonder if Sean Kennedy has any “deleted scenes” lying around; I’d love to read about what happens between Simon and Declan behind closed doors. LOL

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  23. cs
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 13:20:02

    @Maili: Thank you for that. Ah so it was originally an AU Brokeback Mountain fic. I think the original Zero to the Bone has been deleted, since the links to her LJ no longer work. I totally understand people being upset about this. I mean my view on AU stories is premise is all the authors work, but they are taking credit for someone else’s characters. I never knew this before. I don’t discredit Jane Seville and her writing talent based on ZttB. It’s just unfortunate that her characters weren’t her own. The book is still great, and for an AU fan-fic it’s pretty much gold. However, there is a moral dilemma here.

    @CourtneyLee: Tigers and Devils is a great book. I’ve not liked anything else the author has written but that is a keeper.

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  24. Cally
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 07:41:46

    CS: re: 18. I’m not familiar with The Archer though the summary I read sounded incredibly fun to me, like a summer blockbuster style movie. I love stock piling photos of people to use for inspiration. So I definitely agree that is not fan fiction in any of the current defined sense.

    Re: 23 . We share the same definition for AU. And yeah the moral dilemma is a sticky one. It’s frustrating through, and I empathize so much, but… sigh. But what are we to do when it’s already done? And if there was no stigma about fan works, I wonder if we would see more of this sort of thing… or less?

    Honestly what bugs me just as much is when people write what they call fanfiction and nothing is the same as canon. I’m not sure what the point is then: if you changed the names, AND the setting, AND the plot, AND the motivations… then what’s left of the world and characters? It’s the counterpart to ‘selling fanfiction for profit’ — ‘original work advertised as fanfiction to gain an audience’.

    CourtneyLee: re: 22 and definitions. Hmm. Well what’s the definition you have? There’s quite a few means for slash depending on who you talk to and when so you might not be as confused as you think. Slash as far as I’m concerned in the broadest sense indicates a relationship between two characters, particularly an intimate one, and can mean the relationship is the focus of a story. I’ve noticed some people like to say original slash instead of M/M when referring to original material. Does that help?

    And ooh yeah Tigers and Devils. Good book!

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  25. cs
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 15:17:55

    @Cally: The Archer is a totally blockbuster type of story. Load of characters, loads a sex and loads of action. Totally non-traditional but it is entertaining.

    You’re right that’s why it’s more of a moral dilemma. The intention is there with the use of someone else’s characters. However you’re right to also say if it is an AU then the characters are no longer canon. It’s just the names. I mean the original characters where cowboys in a period backdrop. Then you have the ‘supposed’ same characters as a doctor and assassin. How are they the same characters. Definitely a tricky matter, I mean when I read the book there was no link to Brokeback Mountain. However there’s still the intention, and technically she did publish and sell what was originally a fan-fic AU or not.

    I think people misuse the terms of fanfiction to be honest. To me that would be original fiction. Then again a lot of authors use characters from fandom and make their own original characters in the same story.

    It’s all over the place, but the bottom line is no one should be publishing fan-fiction and publishers should actually start putting that down in their submission guidelines.

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  26. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 15:35:43

    @cs: See, I’d have to disagree with what you say about Zero at the Bone. Because Seville kept their names (D=Delmar and Jack retains his name). And D’s accent that was such a point of remark in many reviews comes from Ennis’s accent. And if you read closely, there are some BbM easter eggs in ZatB. *And* the book might be AU, but the characters are very close to the originals. *That* in particular is what made me so mad about reading ZatB, thinking it was original, is that the characters are so good, so consistent, but they’re consistent to characters that aren’t Seville’s original creation. They come from someone else and she just put them in another universe. So yes, they very much ARE the same characters — that is, someone ELSE’S characters — with the same original mannerisms. I’m not denying Seville’s skill in making the story AU and making the characters still recognizable once I knew what to look for. But I’m seriously pissed that it’s being sold as original fiction. Because it’s not.

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  27. Cally
    Sep 17, 2011 @ 21:11:16

    @SarahF: I’m confused again :( How does the publisher justify keeping ZatB in print? It seems really odd to me if it’s that transparently fan-fiction, how they could do that without potential legal stickiness?

    Then again, the ethics of fan fiction drive me nuts. Self policing/being gatekeepers is tough, and I feel there’s rarely any public recognition of that when it is working.

    I’ve bought two books recently – one a new purchase and the other a replacement copy of a comfort read. Both fall in the it’s-really-fan fiction category.

    The new book uses original characters, an original plot, but it occupies the same time and corner of the world as the canon characters who show up for a brief cameo which I’m a little disappointed the author needed to do that. But I love the book for fleshing out the world the canon characters live. I’m having a hard time writing a review of it since I would like people to buy it (it’s self published) but I feel odd about telling people it’s fanfiction. I would like the book to do well since I desperately want a sequel with all original world building in it.

    The other book is the tricky one. Traditional published, well known author/big fan. The dedication gives it away since it mentions the fan board she belongs to, but I know the characters right away and it’s easter eggs galore. I love this book. I still laugh and get teary eyed in all the right places. But honestly, it wouldn’t have grabbed me the same way if I didn’t know who the characters really were.

    It’s a slippery slope, I think. I wish I could write published fan fiction, but there’s no way to do that right now in a way that benefits the original creator(s). The tie-in book market seems like the best possible model, but tie-in books seem like such after thoughts these days even though I’ve read some really amazing adaptations of movies that gave better context or characterization then what I saw on screen-The Shadow being a real stand out.

    (Oh, and has anybody here ever read the Forever Knight tie-in novels? Susan Sizemore’s book was fantastic!)

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  28. Sarah Frantz
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 07:20:40

    @Cally: Well, I have no idea how they justify it — that’s up to their consciences and/or lawyers. But I know DSP publishes a lot of fanfic as original fic. And I probably don’t catch even half of it when I read it, because I don’t know the fandom communities.

    Look, I’m fine with inspiration. Writers don’t write without it. And THE ARCHER sounds interesting to me, because posting up pictures of actors and writing about characters who look like that — so many authors do that. But…something like ZERO AT THE BONE just makes me mad. Other people’s mileage may vary. :)

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  29. cs
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 08:07:18

    @Sarah Frantz: The thing is YOU can see references. I can’t. I would have never known this was an AU BB fan-fic if it wasn’t brought up from yourself.

    You can see from my comments that I stated that she still used someone else’s characters. Names and accents are a little picky in my mind. Mainly because if some author used the names Edward/Bella would that mean they copied Twilight? Accents and names are not original to any author. They have no right over them. However it is the core of the character that I’m looking at. I see no reference to the either characters, and I am not alone in that assessment either. The story is hers, but that characters are not. They’re not canon her characters but she initentionally still used someone else’s characters and then made profit from it.

    I totally give credit to someone who read ZTTB and thought to themselves this is so BB fan-fic, without knowing anything about the whole issue beforehand.

    I’m not mad about this whole thing, maybe because it’s such a good book. I don’t care where people get there inspiration from. So many authors get inspiration from other books and authors. I don’t condone what she’s done, but it probably won’t stop me from buying one of her other books (if she ever writes again).

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  30. Cally
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 09:08:59

    It should make you make mad. It makes me mad. At the very least, it’s poor precedent.

    There should be no stigma about writing fan fiction. Fan fiction is a medium of expression, no better or worse then any other form. However it’s very different from original writing by it’s very nature, and it can’t be read or reviewed in the exact same way as original writing can be considered.

    I wish writers would think about this if they feel compelled to file off the numbers. As a reader, I don’t want to be wondering about mysterious accents, events or symbolisms that have nothing to do with the story I’m reading. If presented to me as original material, I will grade that book poorly, even if as fan fiction I would have praised these same elements.

    lol I think I need to get off the soapbox and get back to my writing.

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  31. LG
    Sep 18, 2011 @ 10:44:09

    I don’t even know the fandom that spawned ZTTB, and wouldn’t recognize any of the references, but knowing that it started off as fan fic means I’d never get it now. I love fan fic – when I finish an original work I enjoyed so much that I can’t bear that it ended, I hunt down fan fic to take the edge off. Some fan fic is quite good, and some of it is only related to the original works in certain ways (same character personalities, same setting, whatever), but I don’t care, if it’s enough based on an original work to be called fan fic, it should never, ever be sold as original fic. I’m fine with someone writing fan fic as a way to get comfortable with writing, but once the person is comfortable and decides he or she would like to try selling their works, then he or she needs to write something original. Even if there weren’t legal/ethical issues, I want to know that the author can write something good without the crutches that fan fic provides.

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