A Critical Comment

So recently, the following comment was posted on the site.  It’s rare for anyone to post a negative comment on this site.  Not because I don’t have my detractors, but because I’m just not important enough that many people feel like logging on to offer any criticism of that sort.  So I guess I’m moving up in the world, gang!

So much praise, so you will probably not be too heartbroken if I offer some criticism?
I read “
In the company of ogres”, and sort of liked it. But it was something about it…
Then I stopped reading, as the next
books (or former) did not seem to appeal to me. I don’t know why.
Then I picked up “Monster”. And read it. Some of it was funny. Some of it was really funny.
But I did make the mistake of visiting your blog before I had finished the book. And I read what you said about “
TOO MANY CURSES”, about you being proud of writing a novel without any real “shift” in characters, and no romance, and that being the point. Then it struck me. What I had problems with in “In the company…”  I read the rest of “Monster”, with this thought in the back of my mind. Stuck, couldn’t get it out. I was expecting the same feeling I had when I finished “In the company…” And I got it. It might have been because I was expecting it. But I don’t think so.
The “problem” was that the stories seemed too much like “this happened, and then we went back to nothing (i.e. our ordinary lives)”. No closure, just “back to normal”.
So, you may be very satisfied you managed to write “too many curses” without any “shift” in the characters and no romance, but me personally, I am a bit dissatisfied that I feel you managed the same in “In the company…” and “Monster”.
I still might pick up your next book, though. Two books may not be enough to make a viable conclusion

Well, first of all, thanks for taking the time to post a comment.  Good or bad, it’s always flattering when someone takes the time to offer their opinion.  And you have some interesting ideas here.  I don’t necessarily agree with them, but hey, that’s what makes life so damned intriguing, isn’t it?

I’m not interested in defending my work, of course.  Neither of us are likely to change our minds, but since you went to the trouble of posting a comment, I thought I’d at least offer a reply.  So here goes.

I think you’re misunderstanding my idea of no major shifts in character.  I don’t mean that the characters don’t undergo some subtle changes in their personality through the events of the story.  They just tend not to be radical shifts.  Still they are profound and important elements to every story I write (with the possible exception of MONSTER, which I will get into in a bit).

Your assessment of IN THE COMPANY OF OGRES is intriguing, but I have to disagree quite a bit about character growth in that story.  In particular, Never Dead Ned grows immensely.  Ironically, he grows by accepting himself for who he is.  Going “Back to normal”, as you put it, isn’t Ned refusing to grow.  It’s Ned becoming exactly what he must.  I know the books been out a few years now, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get any deeper than that.

Meanwhile, Regina has learned that there’s more to life than just kicking everyone’s ass.  Frank has taken steps toward a relationship.  And the soldiers of Ogre Company, while still a group of hard-luck misfits, are on their way toward becoming the military outfit they could always be.

True, none of this is a radical shift.  But by the end of the novel, all the major characters better understand themselves and each other.  It isn’t a huge alteration in their characters, but they are not the same people they were in the beginning of the story in many important ways.

As for TOO MANY CURSES, again, it’s difficult to quantify because, on the face of it, the protagonist starts out as a sensible, level-headed character and remains so throughout the book.  But her transition from lowly servant to mistress of the castle is the crux of the story.  It’s true that she doesn’t rise to this position by becoming all-powerful.  In fact, she does so mostly through the realization that she has been the mistress of the castle for a long time and just didn’t know it.  But even this realization means that “back to normal” is not possible.  (Having not read the book, you, of course, will just have to take my word on it.  Or you could take a chance and buy it, but that’s your call.)

Thinking about it now, I think all my books have this quality.  The characters do not transform in any earth-shattering fashion.  They remain consistent throughout their stories.  But they do change.  They do grow.  They just do it in small (yet important) ways that I find more realistic and satisfying.

I hate to use the word subtle because, damn it, it just sounds pretentious.  But, what the hell?  I’m a semi-successful novelologist.  I have the books on the shelves to prove it.  Just this once, I’ll be pretentious.

As for MONSTER, I agree with your assessment.  Monster, our hero, starts out as a down-on-his-luck pessimist, and by the end of the novel, he really hasn’t grown one damn bit.  That was intentional though.  Sometimes, we just don’t learn.  If you don’t find that satisfying from a story perspective, who could blame you?  I knew when I wrote it that many wouldn’t.

But what about our other protagonist, Judy, who is finally free to pursue her own happiness for the first time?  While she might be the same person, more or less, her circumstances have changed in important ways.  Her life is certainly not “back to normal” by the end of the novel.

And let’s not forget the universe of Monster itself, which has already begun to change after the climax.  Trying to avoid spoilers here (again), but if I wrote another book set in this universe, it would have to be quite a bit different because the very rules of magic and reality that govern Monster’s world have been altered.  I could even argue that the universe itself is the central character of the story and that its transformation by the end could constitute real character growth.

I’m not suggesting that your interpretations are wrong.  All art is filtered through the audience, and if the audience doesn’t like it, then the art has failed.  There’s no debate on that.  I wish I could tell you that you would like my other books better, but I’m not sure you would.  Some of the major characters in DIVINE MISFORTUNE change and grow (though again, nothing very extreme).  Others don’t.  I don’t feel like the book goes “back to normal”, but I didn’t feel that way about the other books either, so what do I know?  I’m just the writer, and in the cosmic scheme of things, my opinion matters far less than the audience’s.

Still, I want to thank you again for taking the time to comment.  If you ever feel like giving any of my other books a try (hey, that’s what libraries and used book stores are for) then I hope you’ll find them worth your time.  If not, well, thanks for giving me a shot.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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16 Comments

  1. Doug Johnson
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I’m with you EXCEPT for the statement “if the audience doesn’t like it, then the art has failed”. Art has a point, usually, in the mind of the artist and it succeeds or fails in relation to the achievement of that end. Of course, if the point is to have everyone in the audience like it, then sure, your statement is correct, but that’s a fool’s game.
    There is a story arc in all of your novels, as you sort of point out, or we wouldn’t stick with it. And I’ve read all of your books to date. Intentionally sought them out.
    But that doesn’t mean there has to be a lot of growth. Look at sitcoms. Certainly not the highest form of art, BUT, one of the principles is that the universe returns to normal (for the sitcom) at the end of each episode. If things move too far too fast, the show fails.
    While there are heroic novels where the main character is completely transformed (gotten way better, or killed…opposite extremes) that is not a requirement that a professional novelologist such as yourself has to cling to. There are other, more subtle, variations of the story arc and you have chosen that route, and chosen well for your particular bent. I think a gross movement of character growth against the unusual universe they live in would be hard to pull off. In fact, it is the thrust into the unusual characters who make the most growth, like Judy in Monster, say, who doesn’t know about the world and changes as a result of her interaction with it.
    Glad you’re keeping up the good fight/write. Looking forward to the next.
    In the meantime, if you haven’t read them yet, you might enjoy Daniel Suarez’s novels. “Daemon” was a good first novel and the sequel, “Freedom”, which I’m reading now, is matching up in quality although it’s a bit more pedantic. Good concept for a thriller series however. Obviously, I don’t know you, but am basing the recommendation on the person you present in the blog…which I assume bears some resemblance to yourself.

  2. Chantal Kirkland
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Lee. This is a really nice insight into your books and what you find important. I think you’ve interested me in Monster–I’ll have to try it now.

  3. Posted March 4, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    What what you love. If the audience does not “get” it, then it was NOT for them. We all have our favorites, some settings I simply cannot get into myself. I have fans, and haters also from my writing… I simply move on to the next article or short story. If you do not have negative reviews, you are doing something wrong. :)

  4. Rippley
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    It seems to me each of the main characters in A. Lee Martinez’s stories carry with them an immutable core personality. Whether the character be Monster, Nessy, Duke, et al., the personality of the character does not change. Monster remains reluctant against work, Nessy remains weary of change, Duke remains Duke. The critic fails to understand that the hero’s quest in these books does not change the character. Rather, through the hero’s quest, each character learns why they are who they are–I think; therefore, I am. Opposed to the traditional hero’s quest, where the main character seeks to discover who they could/can be–I am better than myself.

    OR I could be wrong. Let the literary theorists puzzle through what I call awesome entertainment.

  5. Posted March 7, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi there.

    I posted a couple times before about reading Monster and we discussed the usage of foul language and sex being over used (at least that’s how I feel is an un-necessary trend.) you tried to suggest to me some other stories and I can’t find that thread ,but…

    I was finally able to find another of your books at a local bookstore a couple days ago and thought I would give it a shot. It is “In the Company of Ogres”.

    I have to say, I like this book even more than “Monster”. The characters were really strong and the story was very well paced. I found myself rooting for Ned to take hold of his situation and come out tougher for it in the end. The end wasn’t what I hoped for, but I liked it all the same. It was a “Ned” ending.

    This is a world I believe you could visit several times and we likely wouldn’t be bored or find it wanting.

    Like any good story should do, I was taken in for the ride, not once was I pulled out of the story by poor word usage or out of place references.

    Did I say it was fun? I had a lot of fun with this book. I may have to try to get Borders or Barnes and Noble to order more of your books here.

    Don’t be afraid to re-visit these characters and this place in “In the Company of Ogres”

    I was so much more impressed with this book than “Monster”.

    On this one, you certainly did “write the good write”. Thanks

    T Sandoval

  6. pricesd
    Posted March 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I know this is probably the wrong place to ask this question but I am a newbie here and to the world of all things Martinez — but here goes:
    Where would I be able to find the Cranky Dead short stories — I saw mention of theses shorts on the Wiki page and was just jonesing to read them!
    Thanks!

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      I wish I could tell you. The website was rebuilt, and The Cranky Dead disappeared. I didn’t have a spare copy, although I do think I have a copy in an old laptop somewhere. Haven’t had time to dig it out.

      To add to the obscure and forgotten works of A. Lee Martinez, I should mention two online novellas I put out years ago. I don’t have copies of them myself and I don’t know anyone who does. So it’s like a scavenger hunt. First one to find them gets a pat on the back (and maybe I signed book).

      The first is NIGH-OMNIPOTENT, a fantasy story about a lazy god who has to save it from collapsing when his more traditional brother (and creator of the universe) dies.

      The second is BLACK MAGIC AND SILVER BULLETS, a fantasy detective story starring a goblin detective.

      I’d like to tell you they’re great, but it’s been years since I wrote or read them, so I can’t make any such promise. They might be awesome. They might stink. But they tell me that nothing really goes away on the internet, so they have to be out there somewhere.

      Good hunting.

      • Posted June 25, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        I have “Nigh-Omnipotent” & “Black Magic and Silver Bullets”. I just happened upon them, and was going to read them while on vacation at the beach. I would love to have The Cranky Dead if you ever find it. I can send those two stories to you if you still need them. You can email me through my website: jason-payne.com.
        Love your writing.
        - J

  7. pricesd
    Posted March 9, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Ah well — nothing comes easy right? Very much looking forward to your next book so I think I will re-read Monster in the interim then if I have time I will finish Christopher Moore’s Lamb.
    Thanks for the head’s up about the other stories. Let the internet scouring begin!

  8. Posted March 9, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Hey Alex,

    There are actually quite a few torrents that say they include copies of your online novellas. There are also some sites where unsuspecting people can pay to get a copy.

    Then there is this site:
    http://www.4shared.com/dir/16423943/2e5c349c/PDF_eBooks.html

    If you click the green Download arrow in the right column of the related book title and wait ten seconds, you can then click the purple Download Now button and get a free copy. I downloaded both novellas without a problem a few minutes ago.

    Mission accomplished, and actually not that difficult. ;)

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted March 10, 2010 at 1:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks for finding this. Now everyone can have access to two more pieces of A. Lee Martinez literary genius. At least, I assume so. As I’ve said before, been probably a decade since I read them.

  9. Rippley
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Ahh man, I don’t trust these free ebook sites. The files are probably riddled with viruses. Isn’t there another way?

    I realize you might not want to relive the past, but can you ask your publisher to publish these novellas? Or stick a novella at the end of the next two books you get published? Something? Post them as downloadable files, here, or Project Gutenberg. Please! :) :)

  10. Zovesta
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 4:11 am | Permalink

    Meh – people have different opinions. I am someone who writes about drastic changes in characters and loves reading both subtle and drastic ones. If everybody had the same opinion, we’d all be mindless drones.

    I can see both of your views. You are the author, and if you want it to be subtle, then it better as hell be subtle. Or whatever. As long as you enjoyed the ride and think it worthy enough for us bookworms to read. =V

  11. spredo
    Posted May 6, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Wow.
    Long reply to a short immediate reaction from me. Much appreciated.
    And I would not have read a second book you wrote if it wasn’t something in the first one that intrigued me.
    And you are right, if you were writing to please all your audience, you would fail. No question about it.
    And much respect to you for managing to earn a living writing novels.

    Like I said, I will probably pick up one or more of your novels along the way. I read way to much to be able to aviod it, your writing is not THAT bad :D

    You are right about another thing as well, one should not defend against critique, at least not when it comes to art. The beauty of art IS in the eye of the beholder, and it does not matter how many pairs of glasses you offer to buy, the view will still be the same.
    Feel free to take my criticism as it was intended; as my view on two of your books (with the help of you own description of the third). Use it, or ignore it.

    I try to live by the rule “do not let anything annoy you without trying to correct it”, that is the reason i wrote in the first place. After writing, I am now free to feel annoyed, and keep reading:D

    (And yes, English is NOT my first language, so please ignore any ignorant mistakes in this text)

  12. rene
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Hey Lee,

    Don’t let those haters bring you down. Always remember the more haters you have, the more popular you are! :) Keep up the good work!

  13. Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    You can’t please everyone. I’m sure all of us have already encountered someone who don’t believe in our beliefs. You just need to learn how to handle them and continue to be yourself no matter what.

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