Back Home For a Bit

Amy has gotten through the second round of chemo, which meant the hospital was finally able to discharge her to an acute rehab facility. (She’s been in a hospital bed for more than a month, so she needs some therapy to rebuild muscle and such.) Unlike the hospital, which was an hour+ from home, the rehab facility is only 20 minutes away, which means I’ve been able to split time between there and home.

There’s not really much else to report. From what they can tell, the chemo is doing its job so far. Amy’s in much better shape than she was a month ago. But we have a long way to go before we’re through. The current plan is for 3-4 more rounds of chemo, followed by a bone marrow transplant. We’ll be back staying at the hospital for the next round in a couple of weeks. Not sure if subsequent ones will be able to be done closer to home or not.

Thank you again for all of your support for my wife and our family. It means a lot to know we’re not alone.

Family Health and Ongoing Hiatus

I’m back home for the first time in a while, and I’ve been given permission to talk more about what’s going on. Last month, my wife Amy was diagnosed with cancer — an aggressive form of lymphoma, to be specific.

Aggressive, but treatable. We’ve done the first round of chemo, and the last scans showed some tumor shrinkage, which is a good sign.

This all started with a flare-up of lower back pain. Unfortunately, Amy has chronic back pain, and we’ve had flare-ups before. So the initial doctor visits just led to more painkillers and rest. It wasn’t until I took her to the Emergency Room last month that they discovered what was going on. By then we were dealing with a blast crisis (proliferation of immature white blood cells), dehydration, some organ failures…

I can safely say that was the worst week of my life.

I’m happy to say they were able to treat the immediate health crisis. The messed-up white blood cells have been cleared out, organ function is back to normal, dehydration and malnutrition have been addressed. We’re onto focusing on the long-term treatment plan now.

There’s no prognosis or percentages here. You can find survival rates for her particular type of cancer, but she’s significantly younger than the average patient. And five-year rates are based on patients who were diagnosed at least five years ago — we have five more years of research and advances now.

She’ll still be in the hospital for a while. She’s awfully weak after everything she’s been through. She’s not quite up for visitors yet, but she’s getting closer. I’ll be heading back tonight or tomorrow. I’ll still be mostly offline, and I haven’t written a word of fiction in more than a month, which is likely to continue.

To any of our friends or family who are hearing this for the first time, I’m so sorry. We’ve tried to update people, but Amy has so many people who love her, and my brain has not been at its best. Please feel free to text or email me.

My family has been holding up okay. Everyone has come together to offer support and help out, and I’m so grateful. The kids have been amazing, each in their own way. It’s hard, and that’s going to continue for a while, but we’re all doing our best to take care of each other as well as taking care of Amy.

She’s had really good care. We’re making sure that continues. So far, the insurance side of things has gone pretty smoothly. I’m not holding my breath for that to always be the case, but I’ll deal with that when and if it goes sideways. I’ve also taken care of things like her FMLA leave from work, and applying for short-term disability. The main priority right now is helping her keep getting better.

Oh, and I know the photos might be a bit odd — what can I say. Taking pictures is one of the ways I cope with the stress. Even with a relatively old iPhone camera.

I’m not up for answering a lot of questions online/publicly, since it’s not about me. And we’re not currently looking for advice. But your love and support and encouragement are always appreciated. Thank you.

Running a Book Review Blog, by Andrea Johnson

I’m still offline, but wanted to share a guest post from my friend Andrea Johnson, aka the Little Red Reviewer

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Hi!  My name is Andrea Johnson, and I’ve run the book review blog Little Red Reviewer since 2010. I review primarily science fiction and fantasy, I interview authors, attend local conventions, buy books like its going out of style, and generally talk to everyone all the time about some book I really liked. I’ve done radio segments, been on live TV,  and now I’m kickstarting The Best of Little Red Reviewer,  a print book of my best reviews!   Because why dig through the archives of my blog to find the good stuff, when I can package it in a beautiful little paperback just for you?  Can blog posts and book reviews exist outside of a computer screen? Let’s find out!  Click here to learn more about the Kickstarter and what The Best of Little Red Reviewer is all about.

Best of Little Red Reviewer

In the meantime,  here are some Useful and Interesting things to know about running a Book Review Blog. 

What are some of the pitfalls of running a book review blog? 

I think the biggest pitfall is overextending yourself by setting unrealistic goals, and then getting burned out. Your blog is a hobby, right? So set realistic goals for yourself. Pushing yourself to post 4 book reviews a week, do three cover reveals a week, download 20 books a month from netgalley, and accepting every review request that comes your way are all sure recipes for burn out and having a really un-fun time with this whole book blogging thing. And trust me on this: the moment it stops being fun, the moment it starts to feel like “work”, you will stop posting content to your blog.

It’s OK to say no to a review request, it is OK to remove your contact information from your blog if you’re feeling overwhelmed with review requests. It’s OK to take a break if you are feeling burned out. It’s OK to read something you feel like reading, even if everyone else isn’t reading it. It’s OK to have an unpopular opinion. It is super OK to do as many blog memes, blog tours, cover reveals, and non-book-related posts as you want.

To avoid common blogging pitfalls, just be honest with yourself about why you are blogging. Stay true to your personal goals, and you’ll be fine.  Don’t beat yourself up if your blog doesn’t look like someone else’s or if  your content is different than theirs.  And if your goal is to download 20 books a month from netgalley and read and review all of them? Go for it!  But don’t beat yourself up if you only read and review 15 of them. 

How to Get People to Read Your Reviews

Be social online.  Be authentic in your reviews, and develop your own style.

Be social!  I’m an introvert, so this one was hard for me. Being social online is easier than it looks.  See a post on someone else’s blog that looks interesting? Leave a comment.  I love WordPress “reader”, it helps me find recent blog posts on any topic I want, and I when I find cool posts on science fiction, book reviewing, Star Trek, etc, I comment on ’em!  Many of those bloggers end up visiting my site in return, and we’ve both found a new blog site to follow. Are you on twitter, facebook, instagram, or whatever the cool kids are using these days? Follow authors you like, follow publicists, follow other bloggers, talk about books you are excited about, link to your posts, and most importantly, interact with people on social media. Tell them you liked their book, or liked their review of a book you read.

The secret is to make sure you are starting a conversation. Talk with people, not at them.

Be authentic and develop your own style.  Authenticity is a fancy word for being honest. If you loved the characters in a book but thought the plot was undeveloped, say so.  If certain kinds of books work for you and you know you struggle with other kinds of books, say so.  Be super honest, be authentic, be yourself. You’ll develop a style in time. It probably took me 5 years of writing book reviews to develop my own style. I shouldn’t have been surprised that my book reviewing style matches who I am in real life: Snarky, sarcastic, sometimes sweary, sensitive and sometimes poetic, brutally honest, and sometimes shy and unpredictable.

Be social so that people know who you are, what your blog is all about, and what content you’ve recently posted.  Be authentic and they’ll keep coming back for more. 

What happens if I don’t like a book I’m reading?

This is a toughie!  If you dislike the book so much, maybe because it is a genre you really aren’t into, just DNF (do not finish) it and be done with it. Life is too short to waste on bad books, right?  Some book bloggers only post positive reviews, and will stay silent about books they didn’t finish. In my “5 Books 50 Pages”  posts (here and here), a good half of the featured books got DNF’d. Nothing was inherently wrong with those books, they just weren’t the book for me.

If I’m committed to reviewing a book I didn’t like,  I try to find something positive to say about the book, and then I discuss the reasons the book didn’t work for me.  For example, I know for a fact that I struggle with books that have large casts of characters and lots of different POV chapters.  My review will tell you that perhaps that aspect didn’t work for me, but here are some other things I enjoyed about the plot or the world building, so maybe this book will work for someone else who is reading the review, especially if you love large casts and different POV chapters.

Not every book is going to work for every reader. We all have things we love in books, and things we don’t like. It’s OK to not like a book. It’s OK to respectfully talk about what you didn’t like about it.  Be respectful, be honest.  And if you attend conventions, be prepared to come face to face with an author whose book received a negative review on your blog. Because that will happen. It will be awkward. You will survive.

Now that we’ve gotten through all that, let’s talk books and reviewing!

What’s your favorite book review that you’ve ever written?

What book was a surprise for you?

Do you go back and reread your favorites? Why do you enjoy reading them again?

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Andrea Johnson runs the science fiction and fantasy book review blog Little Red Reviewer (littleredreviewer.wordpress.com), where she has published over 400 reviews since 2010. In 2012, she founded the #VintageSciFiMonth blogging event, and she has organized read alongs and blog tours. She was a contributor to SFSignal, and is currently the author interviewer at Apex Magazine. Andrea and her husband live in a college town in Michigan, and their home looks like a library that exploded. In January of 2019, Andrea will be running a Kickstarter to print a book of The Best of Little Red Reviewer, which will include her best reviews. 

Brief Update and Online Hiatus

We’re dealing with some family stuff. I may go into detail later, but for now, just know that blogging and social media are going to be sparse to nonexistent for the foreseeable future. I’m also going to be worse than usual about responding to most emails and such.

For readers wondering about book three, this does mean Terminal Peace is likely to be a bit delayed. How much is impossible for me to say right now.

I know this is … well, a bit ominous, and I’m sorry for making people worry without providing any specifics.

Love to you all.

Various Health Updates

Apologies to anyone waiting on email from me. We’ve been dealing with family health issues for the past 2+ weeks. Nothing life-threatening, but rather incapacitating until we can get things treated. Hopefully one of these days the various doctors will stop sending and losing referrals and handing us off to someone else without actually doing anything, and maybe one of them will actually help…

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In personal health news, I’ve learned I’m officially a mutant. The BRCA1 gene helps suppress tumors and fight cancer. Turns out mine is broken.

In women, this mutation drastically increases the chances of breast and ovarian cancer. (We started testing family members when my cousin, who has breast cancer, tested positive for the mutation.)

In men, the risk is much smaller, but it’s still there — increased chances for breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancer, and melanoma. But that increased risk is still in the single digits for all but the prostate cancer, and that last is maybe 1 in 4. So I’ll be starting screening earlier than I otherwise would have, but I’m not losing sleep over this stuff yet.

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Hope you’re having a better December than we are!

She-Ra

I hadn’t originally planned to watch Netflix’s She-Ra reboot. The previews hadn’t really grabbed me, and I don’t really have that much TV time. And then I started hearing about complaints from what I’ll call the Manbaby Corner of the internet, how She-Ra was ruining everything by … I’m not exactly sure … I think it was something about female characters who weren’t all designed for the sexual appreciation of straight men?

Anyway, the Volume of Manbaby Whining (VMW) score has been a reliable way of finding good stuff, so I went ahead and binge-watched She-Ra.

It was delightful.

The show is so unapologetic about presenting girls and women with a range of personalities, bodies, strengths, weaknesses, and powers. Some of the secondary characters might feel a little one-dimensional, in part because there’s a limited amount of screen time to go around, but it works.

Like Steven Universe, the traditional Smurfette Syndrome (one girl in a sea of boys) is pretty much flipped around. The only main male character is Bow … and there are hints that he may be trans. (Cue another round of VMW. Poor guys … wherever will they find representation now?)

My favorite storyline was the relationship between Adora and Catra. Seeing Catra curled up on the foot of Adora’s bed in the beginning, seeing how they watched out for each other … the betrayal Catra felt when Adora left her … the tension between them at Princess Prom…

Adora and Catra

Then the episode Promise comes along, showing us Catra and Adora as little kids, developing that love and loyalty even more, until Catra finally has to make a choice. Damn, that was powerful and heartbreaking.

(Also, Catra is voiced by AJ Michalka, who is also the voice for Stevonnie on Steven Universe!)

And that’s before you get into things like Swift Wind, the horse revolutionary, or the relationship between Glimmer and her mother, or the delight with which Sea Hawk keeps setting his ships on fire, or Entrapta’s character (who reads to me as possibly being on the autistic spectrum) and her development, or the hug-loving perfection that is Scorpia. As one Twitter user put it…

Scorpia and Catra

For those who’ve seen it, what did you think?

When Harassment Appears Harmless

ETA: After I posted this, Reddit removed JDA’s comments. Per the r/fantasy rules, “Acting in bad faith in this community can and likely will have consequences.

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A friend of mine was doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) over at Reddit. Among the comments and questions, someone posted the following:

“You’ve been integral in helping me grow my career to where I’ve made six figures on writing in less than 2 years in the biz. So thank you for the support! Look forward to joining you in SFWA. :)”

Seems innocuous, right? Even friendly and flattering, if a bit boastful and self-aggrandizing.

Here’s the thing. The author doing the AMA was SFWA president Cat Rambo. The individual leaving the comment was Jon Del Arroz. You may remember Del Arroz’s name from an earlier blog post documenting his history of trolling and harassing. One section of that post covered his attacks against Cat Rambo, including:

  • Accusing Rambo of defending pedophilia
  • Accusing Rambo, without evidence, of trying to “destroy” him
  • Generally trolling SFWA and Cat Rambo

Rambo repeatedly told Del Arroz to stop contacting her. It reached the point where she had to tell him any additional emails would be forwarded to her attorney.

Now take another look at that comment Del Arroz left on Rambo’s AMA.

There’s nothing friendly about repeatedly, deliberately violating someone’s boundaries. When someone has again and again told you to leave them the hell alone, and you keep following them around, popping up to leave comments or whatever? The words might be friendly, but the behavior is creepy/stalker/harassing.

It’s an attempted power move on the part of the creeper. “Ha ha, I don’t have to respect your boundaries, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” And if the victim complains, the harasser immediately blames them. “I was just trying to be friendly. Why does she have to be so hateful?”

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How many times do we see this kind of stalking, harassing behavior get downplayed because, from the outside, it seems harmless? “Oh, he was just coming up to your booth to say hi, that’s all. Why do you have to get all upset about it?”

Maybe because, again and again, there’s more to the story. There’s a history of harassing, threatening, and/or controlling behavior. But it’s easier to accuse the victim of overreacting than it is to recognize that a lot of this nastiness is deliberately intended to appear harmless. Not only does it let the harasser flaunt their power to violate the victim’s boundaries at will, it also sets the victim up to look crazy if they try to respond. (See also: gaslighting.)

How many times have we heard about a conflict and thought to ourselves, “I don’t get why the person is so upset. It doesn’t sound like this was a big deal.”

Just like a friendly comment on an AMA — in isolation — doesn’t seem like a big deal.

I’m not saying nobody ever overreacts to a slight. But people are awfully damn quick to downplay and dismiss complaints by refusing to consider larger patterns of behavior. And that dismissal is one of the reasons creeps and stalkers continue to get away with this kind of harassment.

Jim C. Hines