The first few reviews, interviews, and other items of publicity are out:

This wonderful review from Out in Print was published first:

Next up was this one in Dark Scribe Magazine

Obviously, any author would be very pleased with a pair of reviews like these!

More recently, two more came to my attention.

There’s this brief but positive one at the Critical Mass blog (scroll down a bit):

And then there’s this bundle of joy (ahem) at Horror Talk

Now, I know writers aren’t supposed to respond to negative reviews. Any publicity is good publicity, right? As long as your name’s spelled correctly and the link works, the job is done. I also think the reviewer’s perfervid loathing of the book is a positive. He didn’t get it at all, major points flew right over his head, and perhaps most importantly, he got some facts wrong and generally displayed a remarkable level of ignorance. It’s actually fine if someone doesn’t like the book. Authors get in trouble if they try to micromanage reader experiences. But when a critic makes glaring errors, then it’s a different situation. That’s what I’ll focus on here:

  1. I don’t understand the relevance of the discussion of debut novels. This was my fourth novel and seventh full-length book, eighth if we include The Queen of Statue Square.
  2. The supernatural element of the story is introduced at the end of Chapter One, and there are other occurrences in subsequent chapters (more on this in a moment). The review makes it sound as if the spooky stuff doesn’t happen until much later in the book.
  3. The “ridiculous nature in which the plot concludes” is in fact a significant aspect of traditional Chinese ghost beliefs, and the ending is based quite closely on one of Yuan Mei’s zhiguai stories in Censored by Confucius.

There also seems to be an underlying assumption that I fundamentally did not know what I was writing about. The bits about Hong Kong are the way they are because I live here. People don’t entertain at home, for example. They eat out. It’s because the apartments are small and the restaurants are good. And the bit about Isaac being a stereotypical gay best friend got on my nerves a bit. I’m gay myself and I don’t deal in stereotypes. But I can let those things go. What I want to come back to is the fact that the reviewer spent so much time talking about the fact that I wrote Inhospitable as part of my PhD. By calling so much attention to it and then saying dumb things that showed he missed major points at the outset, he also calls attention to his failure to grasp the level of research that went into the writing. I researched ghost stories and horror, and specifically the intersections of Western and Chinese ghost lore, and the book is the way it is as a result. The pacing, for example, and the timing of the occurrences of the ghost encounters. The matter-of-factness he had a problem with. And so on. All deliberate, all based on exhaustive research. What I’m trying to say is that it’s odd that he went to the trouble of digging up some background information about me and the book but apparently didn’t make the connection that I might actually have known what I was doing. Part of this is to do with a general lack of understanding about the creative writing PhD. It is not a “university creative writing exercise,” and calling it that is borderline offensive. But even within the academy, there is no shortage of people who don’t understand how the CW doctorate works and what goes into it. Put simply, it’s a PhD and you bleed for it.

Of course it’s disappointing that he found it boring and the pacing too slow and the characters dull and so on. If he felt the execution was not successful, that is fair and I can live with it. I’m also not too fussed about his struggle with the genre. Pretty much all of my work is interstitial in that respect, and that doesn’t work for some readers. I’ve always challenged expectations and conventions in my writing, and this isn’t the first time I’ve made a reviewer foam at the mouth and it won’t be the last. I’m choosing to look at this as a positive review in a peculiar way: I’d rather make someone fucking hate the book than be meh about it. The Concrete Sky inspired similar levels of vitriol when it came out 15 years ago, and there were people who really didn’t like An Ideal for Living and Bitter Orange.

Moving on, there’s also an interview in Entropy, thanks to the awesomeness that is Peter Tieryas:

And The Next Best Book Blog did a cool feature on me and my writing space:

As more reviews are published, I’ll post them here. Thanks for reading!