Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is...

            Historical reference! It’s like a pop culture reference, but it lets you pass tests...
            I've talked about different genre issues a few times in the past.  With the upcoming holiday, though, I thought it would be nice to revisit one that's near and dear to me.  To be more specific, I thought we could talk about the different forms of horror. 
            Anyone who's dabbled in horror knows that, when we tell folks this is our chosen genre, our work tends to get lumped into this vague slasher/vampire/Satanist category.  Either that or we’re tagged as someone working through a collection of childhood issues.  Most folks don't realize horror can be broken down into many different sub-genres, just like drama or comedy or war stories.  Just because Resident Evil is under the umbrella (no pun intended) of horror doesn't mean it’s anything like It Follows, and neither of them resembles Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Or Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.  Or Craig DiLouie’s Suffer The Children.
            So, here's a few different panels of that umbrella.  Some of them are established sub-genres which have already been debated to death.  Others are just things I've noticed and named on my own that I feel are worth mentioning.
            Also, you may notice I’m defining a lot of these by how the characters in the story react/interact with the scary things.  That’s deliberate. All stories are about characters, and horror stories hinge on that.  One of the most common complaints we all hear about horror—to the point that it’s almost a joke—is when the characters do something that makes no sense.  So how my characters act and react is going to have a lot of effect on the story I’m telling...

Supernatural stories—This is one of the easiest ones to spot.  It's your classic ghost story.  The phone lines that fall into the cemetery.  The pale girl out hitchhiking alone in the middle of night.  The foul-smelling thing in the lower berth. 
            There are a few key things you'll notice about these.  One of the biggies is that the protagonist rarely comes to harm in a supernatural story.  Their underwear will need to go through the wash three or four times and they may not sleep well for years afterwards, but physically, and even mentally, they tend to come out okay.  If anyone suffers in a supernatural story it's usually the bad guy or some smaller character.  Also, these stories tend not to have explanations-- they just are.  There aren't any cursed objects or ancient histories at play.  Things happen because... well, they happen.
            The Sixth Sense is still a great example of a supernatural story, as is "A Christmas Carol" by that populist hack Charles Dickens.  Even the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is more supernatural stories than anything else.

Giant Evil stories—These are the grim tales when the universe itself is against my characters.  Every person they meet, everything they encounter--it all serves some greater, awful evil.  H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Howard wrote a lot of giant evil storiesThe Omen is another good (so to speak) story of the universe turning against the protagonist.  Any fan of Sutter Cane will of course remember the reality-twisting film In The Mouth of Madness.  In a way, most post-apocalyptic stories fall here, too—the world belongs to radioactive mutants, the killer virus, or the zombie hordes.
            Personally, I’d toss a lot of haunted house stories in here, because the haunted house (or ship, or insane asylum, or spaceship, or whatever) is essentially the universe of the story.  Not all of them, but a decent number.  The reader or audience doesn’t see anything else and the characters don’t get to interact with anything else.  House on Haunted Hill, The Shining, Event Horizon, and most of the Paranormal Activity films could all be seen as supernatural stories, but their settings really elevate them to giant evil stories.

Thrillers—Thrillers also stand a bit away from the pack because they tend to be the most grounded of horror stories.  Few creatures of the night, no dark entities, far fewer axe-wielding psychopaths.  The key thing to remember is that a thriller is all about right now.  It's about the clock counting down in front of my heroine, the killer hiding right there in the closet, or the booby trap that's a razor-width from going off and doing... well, awful things to my characters.  There's a lot of suspense focused on one or two characters and it stays focused on them for the run of my story.  A thriller keeps the characters (and the reader) on edge almost every minute.

Slasher stories—These are really about one thing, and that’s body count.  How many men, women, and fornicating teens can the killer reduce to cold meat?  Note that there’s a few distinctions between a slasher story and a torture porn story (see below), and one of them is usually the sheer number of people killed.  There's also often a degree of creativity and violence to the deaths, although it's important to note it's rarely deliberate or malicious.  Often it's just the killer using the most convenient tools at hand for the job—slasher tales are pretty much a parkour of death.  The original Friday the 13th film series has pretty much become the standard for slasher pics, and it's what most people tend to think of first when you mention the term.
            A lot slasher stories used to have a mystery sub-element to them, and often it was trying to figure out who the killer was.  Then it kind of morphed into being a twist... alas, often not a very well-done one.   Slasher stories also developed a bad habit of falling back on the insanity defense and got stereotyped as "psycho-killer" movies.  Which is a shame because some of them are actually very clever and creepy.

Monster stories—The tales in this little sub-genre tend to be about unstoppable, inescapable things that mean the protagonist harm.  They’re rarely secretive or mysterious, but they do have an alarming habit of tending toward nigh-immortality.   The emphasis here is that nothing my heroes (or the villains, police, military, or the innocent bystanders) do can end this thing's rampage, and any worthwhile rampage tends to involve people dying.  There may be blood and death, but the focus with a monster isn’t finding it or learning about it-- it’s stopping it.  Or at least getting as far away from it as possible.  Of course, how far is far enough with something that doesn't stop?
            The original monster story is, of course, FrankensteinGodzilla is a monster, in a very obvious sense, but so are zombies, Samara in The Ring, and even Freddy Kruger.  I still hold that the reason Jason X is so reviled by fans of the franchise is that the filmmakers turned it into a monster movie, not a slasher film like the ones before it.
            My lovely lady also made an interesting observation recently.  In monster stories, you almost always have a moment when the audience feels a twinge of sympathy for the monster.  Look at any of those named above, and you’ll see there’s a point when we empathize with Frankenstein, Godzilla, and yeah... even super-killer cyborg Jason (who seems to settle down once a holodeck dumps him back at a deserted and lonely Camp Crystal Lake and you realize he just wants to be left alone).

Adventure Horror stories—To paraphrase from Hellboy (which would fit quite well in this category), adventure horror is where the good guys bump back.  While they may use a lot of tropes from some of the other subgenres, the key element to these stories is that the heroes are fighting back.  Not in a weak, flailing, shrieking cheerleader way, but in a trained, heavily-armed, we've-got-your-number way.  Oh, it can still go exceptionally bad for them (and often does), but this sub-genre is about protagonists who get to inflict a bit of damage and live to tell the tale.  For a while, anyway.  To quote an even wiser man, even monsters have nightmares.
            The Resident Evil franchise is horror adventure with zombies, just like my own Ex-Heroes.  Jonathan Maberry’s definitely dabbled in it as well, with some of his eerier Joe Ledger books. The Ghostbusters movies could fit here, too.  There’s long-running shows like Grimm and Supernatural, and some of you may have seen a fun little cable series called Ash vs. Evil Dead

Torture porn—Director Paul Verhoven once commented that the reason Murphy is killed so brutally in the beginning of Robocop was because there wasn’t time at the start of the film to develop him as a character.  So they gave him a horribly gruesome death, knowing it would create instant sympathy for him, and then they’d be able to fill in more details about his life later on in the film.  That’s the general idea behind torture porn.  Minus the filling in more details about the characters later.
            I’m not sure if King himself actually coined the term “torture porn” in his Entertainment Weekly column, but that’s the first place I remember seeing it.  At its simplest, torture porn is about making the reader or the audience squirm.  If you can make them physically ill, power to you.  The victims are usually underdeveloped, unmemorable, and doomed from the moment they’re introduced.  It’s not about characters, it’s about the visceral things being done to the characters.  They’re getting skinned, scalped, boiled, slowly impaled, vivisected... and we’re getting every gory detail of it.  A film industry co-worker once told me “porn is when you show everything,” and this sub-genre really is about leaving nothing to the imagination.  They are the anti-thriller, to put it simply.
            A key element to torture porn is the victim is almost always helpless.  They’re bound, drugged, completely alone, or vastly outnumbered.  Unlike a slasher film-- where there's always that sense that Dot might escape if she just ran a little faster or make a bit less noise-- there is no question in these stories that the victim is not going to get away.  That hope isn't here, because that's not what these stories are about.

            So there’s seven subgenres we can break horror down into.  And there’s many more.  All fascinating stuff, right?
            Why are we talking about it?
            Y’see, Timmy, when a lot of us start off  as writers, we flail a bit, usually in the attempt to copy stories we don’t quite understand the mechanics of.  As such, we aren't sure where our own stories fit under the big horror umbrella (or sci-fi, or fantasy, or...).  We'll begin a tale in one sub-genre, then move into a plot more fitting a different one, wrap up with an ending that belongs on a third, and have the tone of yet another through the whole thing. 
            It's important to know what I’m writing for two different reasons.  One is so I’ll be true to it and don't end up with a sprawling story that covers everything and goes nowhere.  I don't want my thriller to degenerate into a slasher, and if I’m aiming for cosmic-level, Lovecraftian evil it'd be depressing to find all the earmarks of a classic supernatural story.  I also want to be able to market my story, which means I need to know what it is.  If I tell an editor it's not torture porn when it plainly is, at the best I’m going to get rejected.  At the worst, they'll remember me as "that idiot" when my next piece crosses their desk.
            In closing, I’ll also toss in the free observation that it’s difficult to merge two of these subgenres because a lot of them contradict each other by their very nature.  Not impossible, mind you, but difficult.  Probably one of the few exceptions I can think of in recent times is The Cabin In The Woods, which does an amazing dancing back and forth between being a monster movie and a giant evil movie.
            So, that's enough of that.  Feel free to dwell on these points over the weekend while you’re drinking, watching some scary movies, and sneaking Kit Kats out of the candy bowl (seriously—feel ashamed about that. Those are for the kids!)
            Next time... I thought we could talk a little bit about democracy.
            Happy Halloween.  Don't forget to get some writing done.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Win-Lose Situation

            Okay, believe it or not, I’m actually somewhat ahead on ranty blog posts right now.  Three weeks ahead.  But I want to put it out there again that suggestions and requests are always welcome.  Or just general comments. 
            Without them I’ll just keep blabbing away about whatever comes to mind.
            For example...
             A few weeks back I blabbed on about art, especially the tendency in art stories to make characters as miserable as possible.  That idea bounced around in my head for a while.  The other day it hit another idea, and once they were next to each other I knew how to explain this.
            When we’re starting out as people, and as writers, we tend to look at things in very black and white terms.  Something is positive, or it’s negative.  Good or bad.  That’s it.  The idea of something being mostly good, despite having some bad in it, doesn’t tend to cross the mind as a first choice.  Or that a villain could be anything less than 100% evil.  White hats and black capes, right?
            I can be honest.  I used to do this a lot.  I think most writers do. It’s an experience thing.  None of us ever think we’re doing it—we’re all wise and worldly, after all—but the truth is it’s just a stage the majority of us go through as we’re learning to tell stories.
            If I had to make a guess, I think this is why a lot of these artistic stories tend to be so negative, especially the ones by beginning writers.  The only visible choices are all positive or all negative, and if they were all positive there’d be nothing for anyone to talk about. Soooo...
            The characters in these stories just have awful, pathetic lives.  They have bad jobs for low pay where they’re unappreciated and have horrible bosses.  They hang out with boring friends and have bad relationships and unenthusiastic, unfulfilling sex with barely-adequate partners.
            Sound familiar?
            While this can work on a very simple level, it’s just not a great representation of the real world.  Yes, the world is a messy place, full of compromises and mistakes and a lot of people trying to do the best they can, usually under less than ideal circumstances.  Bad things do happen to good people far too often, and some folks just never seem to get a break.
            There can be a lot of bad, yeah, but there’s also a lot of good.  Friends and family who help out.  Random sympathetic strangers.  Even just sheer luck. Sometimes—maybe just once or twice in our lives—we stumbled across just what we need at the exact moment we need it.
            The simple truth is, life is a mix.  It’s very rarely all good or all bad.  And that holds in fiction, too.  A good story is rarely going to be all of one or the other.  My characters need to succeed (we don’t want to be following losers), but success doesn’t always mean getting the sexy love interest, finding the treasure, or triumphantly winning the battle without physical or mental scars.
            Great example—we’ve all heard the story about the day Oprah gave everyone in her audience a luxury car, right?  Fantastic!  Nothing but positive there, right?
            In the weeks to come, many of these people were begging her to take the cars back.  Seriously.  Did you know you have to pay taxes on big prizes like that?  What do you think the tax is on a $60,000 luxury car?  And do you want to guess at the minimum insurance payments?  The attempt to make all these lives better actually made many of them worse.
            You’ve probably heard similar stories about lottery winners.  At first they’re thrilled to win all that money—who wouldn’t be?  But then you hear stories about how people start to look at them differently and act differently. They’re no longer Yakko from work—they’re Yakko the multi-millionaire. And every time they don’t pick up the tab or don’t chip in or don’t offer to help, the looks change a little more.  Seriously, check it out—a huge number of lottery winners say it ruined their lives.
         Remember that classic story “The Monkey’s Paw,” where no matter what you wish for there’s always a negative twist to it?  Ursula K. LeGuin did the same thing in The Lathe of Heaven, about a man whose dreams shape reality.  And if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you may remember the Game of Rassilon, where those who win shall lose, and those who lose shall win.
            Alas, even with all these examples, it’s not always easy to see this.  Definitely not easy to write it.  Multi-layered success is a challenging thing, and—as I mentioned above—it takes a degree of experience to pull it off.
            Simple experiment. Take your favorite book or movie.  Odds are it’s got a happy ending, right?  At least a mildly-positive one?
            Now—find the bad things.  What did it cost the protagonist to get to that happy ending?  Ruined relationships?  Compromised morals?  Lost job?  Property damage?  Bodily damage?  Maybe even a death or three?  I’m willing to bet there was a price.  Probably even a big one.
            Winning rarely comes without some losses.  Losing isn’t always the end of the world.  And my stories should reflect this.
            Next time... it’s Halloween.  Time to sit around the campfire and tell... well, some kind of scary story.  We’ll figure out what.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Let’s Go Crazy...

            Quiet moment for Prince while you all sing the next line in your head.
            And... moving on.
            It being the Halloween season, I thought it’d be worthwhile to blab on about something I’ve referred to once or thrice here as the insanity defense. Like most times you’ve heard this phrase invoked, it’s a cheap cop-out.  While it’s most noticeable in films and television, you can also find it in books, and in several graphic novels.
            The insanity defense is when our heroes have spent the entire story chasing a killer.  It’s not always a killer, mind you.  Might be a stalker who hoped for the big leagues, weirdo in a clown suit, something like that.  Anyway, they run down clues, have close calls, and spend the whole time trying to make sense, one way or another, of what’s been happening.  And finally, at the end, our mysterious killer is cornered and his secret revealed for all to see...
            Alternately, sometimes certain events or moments just have to happen in my story.  It’s been all plotted out and I need a reason for the characters to do this so that and that can happen a bit later.  I also know I need an in-story motivation for these events, no matter how bizarre or unlikely they are.
            Faced with these challenges, sometimes I might be tempted to fall back on the easiest solution I can. 
            I’ll say the character is insane.
            Now they don’t need a motivation, right?  He or she is just doing this stuff because, well... they’re insane.
            Alas, this is pretty much hands-down the laziest writing I can ever do (not to mention kinda insulting to anyone suffering from actual emotional or mental issues).  All characters need a solid reason to do the things they do, and when I decide to use insanity as a justification for any of my character's actions, abilities, or behaviors, it just shows that I’m too lazy to work out a real motivation.  The plot needs to be driven forward, and there’s no logical reason for this to happen, so I’ll just say someone’s crazy and relieve myself of the need to be logical.  It’s a cheap way to hide my button-pushing.
            Just to be clear, madness in and of itself is not a bad thing (speaking from a character point of view, of course).  The Joker.  Renfield.  Hannibal Lecter.  Calvin “Cal” Zabo.  All of these characters are insane to different extents and are all pretty much magnificent either in print or on the screen. 
            Thing is, the writers behind these characters all realized the key point I’d like to make here.
            The Joker believes he can prove that everyone, at heart, is ruthless and psychotic,  just like him.  Renfield believes eating insects and spiders means he’s eating their life-essence and extending his own.  Hannibal Lecter doesn’t consider himself bound by the standards and taboos of the human race, giving him a cold ruthlessness that sometimes makes the Joker almost look normal.   The writers behind these characters didn’t just fall back on “they’re insane.” Each character has an actual motivation for their actions.
            A few times here I’ve mentioned my fairly awful college novel, The Trinity.  In said book, the antagonist is insane.  As he sees it, in the book of Genesis, God rewarded Abel for sacrificing a sheep but turned his nose up at Cain’s much larger sacrifice of harvested fruits and grains.  When Cain did spill blood later (Abel’s), God “rewarded” him with a mark that said no man would ever be able to lay hands on him.  Based off this, my villain's determined God wants us all to kill as many people as possible.  A twisted interpretation, granted, but see where it's coming from?  He’s not killing people because he’s insane, he’s killing them because, from his point of view, this is what God wants.  We can point at it and say he’s doing Y because he believes X and expects Z as a result.
            There’s an old joke you’ve probably heard that goes like this--one definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting different results.  But let’s consider that for a moment.  The implication is that Yakko is choosing to repeat a given action (let’s say, shoving baloney into his pants) because it’s his belief that the outcome of this action will be a certain, predictable result--just not the one he’s getting.  He isn’t just shoving sandwich meat down there for no reason.  He has a motive fueled by what he sees as logical expectations.
            Y’see, Timmy, insanity is not a motivation.  It’s the lens the characters are seeing their motivation through.  Madness doesn’t make them irrational, just... differently rational.  To quote another joke, “Just because I’m crazy doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
            Now, there is still a place for that sort of mindless madman (or madwoman) gibbering in the corner, lurking in the attic, or chopping up attractive teens at the old summer camp. But we’re probably going to talk about that in two weeks, as we get closer to Halloween.
            Next time, I’d like to talk about the Game of Rassilon.
            Until then... go write.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Procrasti Nation

            You remember the Procrasti from Deep Space Nine, right? They were that race from the Gamma Quadrant that was going to come through the wormhole someday...
            Geek joke.
            I saw a thing floating around Twitter a month or three back, one of those clickbaity “this article EXPLODES one of the biggest myths about writing...”  And that myth was that writers need to write every day. Which, granted, the vast majority of professional writers—myself included—will all tell you to do if you want to do this for a living.  But according to this little piece, that’s complete nonsense.  If I only write once a week, good for me.  If I need to wait for inspiration, that’s fine.  What’s important is that I'm writing at a rate that’s comfortable for me.
            Now, in all fairness to the article, I’ve said similar things here.  If you can only write on Sundays, standing on your head while wearing that “enhancing” corset you bought at the ren faire last year, but you always write 15,000 words in a session... well,  congratulations.  It’s a damned weird system, but it works for you.  So what if you don’t write the other six days of the week.  Fifteen thousand words a week is fantastic.  I know some pros who don’t hit those numbers consistently. Hell, I usually don’t hit those numbers.
            If I’m only cinching myself into the corset once every two or three weeks, and only writing a hundred words when I do... there’s a chance I just may not be taking this whole writing thing that seriously.
            And there’s nothing wrong with that in a larger sense.  If I just want to scribble blog posts or fan fic as the mood strikes me, that’s fine. I know a few people who write as more of a therapy thing, some who do it for fun, and one who did it as a sort of... well, she’d been single for a while.  Let’s leave it at that.
            Again, no big deal if that’s how I approach it.  To fall back on an analogy I’ve used once or thrice, not everybody who cooks needs to be a chef.  Or wants to be.  I love cooking, playing around with spices, trying new things with pizzas or pasta... but I’m never going to be a chef.  I’m fine with that.  I’m just doing this to have some fun on the weekends.
            But... if I wanted to be a chef, to actually get paid for cooking, I’m probably going to have to put some work into it. And that means doing it more often than when the mood strikes me.  It means sometimes I’d need to stay home and cook rather than going out with friends. 
            And, yeah, sometimes that work can mean other things. It can mean reading cookbooks. Or watching cooking videos on YouTube.  Maybe even eating out sometimes.
            But in the end... it means I’m going to be cooking.  A lot.  There’s really no other way to do it.
            Same with writing.  If I want to make money off this storytelling thing—if I want to do it for a living—I’m going to have to write. A lot.  On a fairly regular, consistent basis.
            I wrote my first three novels and a good-sized novella while I was working full time as an entertainment journalist. And reading scripts on the side.  So I was often doing four or five thousand words a week to put food on the table and pay rent, then staying in the chair to do another six or seven thousand on the stuff that I wanted to be paying rent with.
            Hell, I know two full-time, professional writers (about to be three) who had babies this year.  Little, squishy new-humans who pretty much need constant attention (granted, I’ve never had one myself, so that’s just conjecture on my part).  And those three are all still writing.
            It’s fine to tell myself that I’m waiting for the muse.  Or that I’m reading a how-to book about crafting the perfect first sentence.  Or that playing Dawn of War III is going to be a vital part of my creative process.  We all have our own methods when it comes to writing. Like that corset.
            But there is also a point that... well, I’m just not writing.
            Again, depending on what I want out of this, that may be fine.  If I only post on my blog once a month... so what?  If I just write slash-fic when I’m bored, hey, it passes the time.  If this is just a hobby that I do every couple of weeks... awesome.
            If I keep telling you how much I want to be a chef, though... wouldn’t it be weird if I only cooked one or two meals a week?  Or two or three times a month? 
            I mean, that just doesn’t make much sense, right?
            Next time, I want to talk about something crazy.
            Until then, go write.
            Oh!  And if you’re in the Los Angeles area, this Sunday is the Writers Coffeehouse at Dark Delicacies in Burbank.  Noon to three, open to writers of all levels.  It’s completely free—no sign up or anything, just stop by and pull up a chair.
            Okay... now go write.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Amazon Review Policy, Pt III

            Two months since I first started all this.  The goal was simple—we’ve all heard anecdotal stories about reviews being deleted for a number of reasons, but they tend to be kind of random and rarely have a lot of other information about them.  Also, Amazon’s policies change a lot and seem to go through... well, random enforcement.  I wanted to create a big set of data that people could refer back to when they talk about such things.
            I did this by taking thirty books I’d read over the past year (thirty really good books, to be clear) and doing a review a day for the entire month of August. Okay, almost the entire month.  I recorded the title, the author, the day the review posted, and every social media or publicity connection I could think of to said author (supposedly, this is one of the big things Amazon keeps an eye on).
            It’s been a little over thirty days since the last of those review posted. 
            What’s happened in the weeks since then?
            Okay, lots of stuff.  But as far as this goes...?
            Well, I went back and checked all the reviews.  They’re all still up as I write this.  Six of them even got marked with the little “X out of Y people found this review helpful.”  One of those is a control book, too.
            I’ve heard nothing from Amazon. Nada.  Zip.  No warnings or alerts or even a mild slap on the wrist.  Nothing on my account or in my email.
            And keep in mind—some of these reviews should be deleted.  They blatantly violate the review rules. There’s a bunch of control reviews where I have a big conflict of interest by offering my “unbiased” thoughts.  Heck, I even admit in them that they’re biased.
            Plus—I haven’t exactly been secretive that I’m doing this. I’ve mentioned it on Facebook and on Twitter, and it was shared/retweeted a fair amount. More than a few of the authors mentioned their reviews publicly, and I’ve usually mentioned this little experiment in the responses.  I’m not going to say this was trending anywhere, but things haven’t been dead-quiet, either.
            So if there’s a social media bot/algorithm searching social media for connections... it’s doing a pretty poor job. 
            Anyway, what can we learn from all this?
            A few ideas...

            First is that there might be more to the reviews that have been deleted than we’re being told.  Maybe I logged in to my Amazon account through my author-friend’s computer and some bot registered that?  Or possibly that we share the same IP, depending on just how close I am to said author-friend.  Perhaps I’m very, very bad at sockpuppeting?  Maybe I wrote in all caps and set off a different bot?  There’s so many things that could be a possible trigger, it’s hard to be sure exactly why something was deleted.
            This feeds into my second idea which is that my reviews might only get pulled when someone reports them to Amazon.  Perhaps having the same last name as the author, related or not, made someone shout “J’accuse!”  Maybe somebody’s a bit timid and was offended by some of the colorful terms I used to show how much I liked this book.  Possibly it’s a new form of clever attack by paranoid folks—I can’t write a nasty review of your book to bring down its rating, but I could tell Amazon those two very positive reviews were actually written by your best friend/significant other/somebody you paid.  Heck, if I’m trading reviews with you, it’s even possible the deletion is an attack against me, not you.  How often have we seen some crazed nut chase somebody around social media responding to any and everything they post...?
            Third,  over the past year or three I’ve sometimes wondered if this is actually a clever trick by Amazon to encourage self-policing.  I mean, if we all know our potentially nepotistic reviews are going to be taken down, we probably won’t waste time putting a lot of them up, right?  Right there, that could cut 50% or more of potentially troublesome reviews—and all it cost them was a press release about their latest policy.
            I know I did this for ages.  There’s about a two or three year stretch where I didn’t write any reviews because everyone had me convinced Amazon would pull them immediately.  And I had stuff to do so... why use up that time? Instead I’d often get in touch with the author somehow, let them know how much I liked their book, and offer a blurb if either of us thought my name could offer any weight for them. 
            But I didn’t write any reviews.
            Fourth is something Chuck Wendig suggested to me.  After the reviews went up, he got in touch on Twitter and bounced an interesting idea off me, based (I believe) off a few observations and some of the more... aggressively negative reviews a few of his books have attracted.  His thought was that the automatic deletion is more likely to happen to people who’ve had reviews deleted before.  If one of my earlier reviews was reported for breaking one of the rules, Amazon would be more likely to apply their uber-algorithm to my later reviews.
            This actually makes sense. More than a few folks have pointed out the raw amount of data the algorithm would have to process for every review of every book on Amazon (easily, say five million), and then cross-referencing them with every social media contact said author has (we could probably say, what, five thousand as an average, since Amazon is counting both ways).  By my rough math, that’s like a batrillion calculations.  It’s not a complicated thing to do if you’re just searching for a connection, but as brute-force work goes that’s a fair amount of number-crunching. 
            However, if we’re going to limit it to authors/reviewers who’ve already been reported “manually,” so to speak, those numbers probably shrink by a very large percentage.
            If that was true (and again, we’re just spitballing—it’s barely a hypothesis), it might explain why some people have reviews that never even post while others (like myself) can put up a couple dozen with no problem—even on the ones that should be problematic.
            Which of these are true?  No idea.  There’s a bit of potential overlap.  All four of them fit the small amount of information I was able to glean from this.  And there’s probably other theories that would fit, too.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of them, or on your own based on what we’ve got here.
            What we can say is that Amazon definitely isn’t deleting all reviews.  Not immediately and especially not based off social media connections.  We’ve got thirty examples to prove that right here. 
            So the next time someone tries to tell you that a bunch of reviews get deleted for no reason, you can point them to this
            Which I think brings us to the end of this little experiment.  The links are all there if anyone wants to check back at any point to see if anything’s happened. Maybe I’ll check back in six months (April or so)  just as a late follow-up to see if anything’s happened.  And if anything happens before then, I’ll definitely let you know.
            Come back in two days when I’m going to talk about...
            Well, maybe three days.  I’ll get to it eventually.
            Until then... go write.