Amazon’s new policy on book reviews did not impact me thanks to the quality of my friends and family.

You may have heard that Amazon has a new policy when it comes to online book reviews. From a piece in The New York Times:

Giving raves to family members is no longer acceptable. Neither is writers’ reviewing other writers. But showering five stars on a book you admittedly have not read is fine.

After several well-publicized cases involving writers buying or manipulating their reviews, Amazon is cracking down. Writers say thousands of reviews have been deleted from the shopping site in recent months.

Upon reading this,I immediately clicked over to Amazon to see the damage that this new policy had inflicted upon the reviews of my books.

Then I remembered: 

My friends and family don’t review my books on Amazon. Or anywhere else.

MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND currently has 131 reviews (a 4.3 average), and with the exception of my mother-in-law, I don’t think a single review came from a personal friend or family member.

SOMETHING MISSING currently has 81 reviews (a 4.1 average), and I don’t think  any of my friends or family members, including my mother-in-law, reviewed this book.

UNEXPEXTEDLY, MILO currently has a slightly anemic 25 reviews (a 4.2 average), but since there were so few reviews, I took the time to scroll through them all and did not recognize any of the names as being friends or family. 

While it may seem like I’m complaining about the loyalty and support of friends and family (and I sort of am), I also take a lot of pride in the fact that none of the reviews of my books on Amazon, Goodreads or anywhere else have been given by friends or family members, nor have I ever solicited a review from anyone.

It’s great to know that I’m doing just fine on my own, since I am apparently doing this on my own.

Matthew Brown reads Matthew Green

The fact that I published MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND in the UK under the pseudonym Matthew Green and the narrator of the audio version of the book is Matthew Brown is odd. Or perhaps fitting.

Either way, I am happy to see Matthew Brown getting his due in the recent review of his performance in AudioFile magazine:

By Matthew Dicks
Read by Matthew Brown

Matthew Brown gives a winning performance as Budo, the imaginary friend of 8-year-old Max. Max has a spectrum disorder (probably autism). Budo, who immediately assures us he’s not imaginary, is the interpreter of and the link between Max’s world and the “typical” world. Brown is especially effective as Budo explains Max’s life. Max can’t stand to be touched, has rigid routines, likes silence and solitude, and retreats inside when too many choices overload his circuits. When Max loses control, his voice becomes shrill with a flat affect. Brown’s uncanny reproduction of Max’s high-pitched hysteria makes Max completely believable. Matthew Dicks offers an unusual and original look into a world filled with terrifying obstacles for a child whose brain function forces him to create his only comfort.


The Author's Prayer

A while back, Washington Post fiction critic extraordinaire Ron Charles tweeted: Does being stuck inside writing a review on this gorgeous day make me even more annoyed with this tedious novel?

I was never able to determine which book Charles was referencing, but the comment left me wondering if a critic’s personal circumstances might impact his or her opinion of a book.

Did the fine weather and his unfortunate interior confinement impact Charles’ review of the book in question?

Probably not.

But are their more likely circumstances where a critic’s opinion could be influenced?

For example, does the last novel that the critic has read influence the review? If he has just finished reading a real clunker, does that give the next book a slight leg-up?

And conversely, what if the critic has just read what he considers to be the book of the decade? Will this influence his opinion of the next book he reviews?  Could the next book hope to measure up to the previous book, and if not, will the review be inherently, if not purposefully, slightly less favorable?

The list of potential influences is endless.

Did the critic and his wife engage in verbal fisticuffs just prior to sitting down to read the book?

Were the kids’ report cards uncommonly glowing this semester?

Was dinner a disappointment?

Did the critic just have sex?

Did the critic’s iPhone refuse to sync, necessitating a trip to the Genius Bar?

Had the critic recently lost a lot of weight through surprising minimal effort?

Was the local 7-11 out of Chunky Monkey and Cherry Garcia?

Was the critic drunk?

Was his back sore?

Was his most recent performance review less than favorable?

Does the cover art on the book remind the critic of the girl in high school who dumped him for his step-brother?

Did his dog just die?

While I like to think that all book critics are impartial and souls, perfectly capable of excluding personal success and disappointment from their work day, it’s probably not possible. As impartial as they may be, a personal crisis tends to weave its way into the fabric of our lives, whether we like it or not.

So  wonder how often a critic’s opinion of a book is slightly shifted by circumstance.

Can the weather or a technological snafu or the death of a pet change a review for better or worse?


If so, I offer this author’s prayer:

When it comes time to review my next book, may all the fine literary critics of the world be the slightly inibriated, suddenly svelt parents of straight A students who have been away at summer camp for a month, allowing the critic and spouse to eat Chunky Money ice cream and have sex on the dining room table after a more-than-satisfying late night dinner.

writing is prayer

Unexpected links

A couple links you may be interested in related to UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO: The first two parts (Part 1) (Part 2) in a three-part series on the realities of a book tour. I’m writing these pieces for the Water Street Books blog in preparation for my upcoming appearance in a couples weeks.

A terrific review of UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO on Book Page.

Probably my favorite review of all-time.  I expect to be re-reading it in times of doubt.

Daily Candy and The Wall Street Journal!

This has been a good day. 

UNEXPECTEDLY, MILO hit bookstore shelves yesterday, and today it was reviewed by Daily Candy and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal

Daily Candy, an enormously popular website that everyone seemed to know about prior to the review with the exception of me, ran their review on their front page and made it the subject of their Daily Candy email blast, which goes to seemingly half the people I know (unbeknownst to me).

Daily Candy said:

“We all know if you spot a mysterious bag underneath a bench, you should probably move away quickly and call the authorities.

Unless it’s full of old videotapes. In which case, you should go home and watch every last one. At least, that’s what Milo Slade, protagonist in Matthew Dicks’s new novel, Unexpectedly, Milo, does.

The earnest voyeur discovers a video diary belonging to a young woman (whom he dubs Freckles) and quickly becomes fixated on her best friend, Tess, who ran away when the two were just teenagers and was never heard from again. Slade decides Tess is alive and embarks on a cross-country road trip to find her — all the while battling a demon or two (or twenty) of his own, including the recent dissolution of his marriage and a severe case of OCD.

Sound depressing? It’s not. Dicks manages to make us laugh out loud with crazed characters, like Linda, the pancake saleswoman, and Macy, a busty Southern waitress. The end result: an adventure of a summer read you’ll never put down.”

The Wall Street Journal said:

“The contemporary Connecticut of Matthew Dicks's amusing and engaging second novel, "Unexpectedly, Milo," is a much more whimsical place than Mr. Yoshida's Japan, yet it is a slightly disturbing place, too.

Mr. Dicks's peculiar protagonist—Milo Slade, a 33-year-old home health-care aide—suffers from habitual, unignorable impulses to do any number of odd, "pressure-releasing" actions, from twisting open the vacuum-sealed tops of jelly jars (he keeps a supply on hand in his car trunk) to inducing others to speak aloud in spontaneous conversation a random word ("loquacious," for instance) that has popped into Milo's head.

Milo's odd urges have plagued him his whole life: "He couldn't help but attribute them to some other force, one he often imagined as a German U-boat captain on duty somewhere in his brain, gray uniform adorned with gold epaulets, standing ramrod straight, eyes pressed into a periscope, capable of watching Milo's every move, just waiting to twist the valves and raise the levers that would increase the pressure of the demand at the appropriate moment."

By chance, Milo finds a stash of confessional videocam tapes made by a woman he doesn't know who feels seems to feel responsible for the disappearance and possible death of a former high-school classmate of hers. The obsessive, empathetic Milo determines to find the missing woman and relieve the camcorder-confessor of her long-time guilt: "He couldn't begin to imagine the joy and the sense of relief that she would feel on realizing that she was free from her burden."

Whether Milo himself will ever achieve a comparable equilibrium and happiness is part of the cosmic mystery surrounding this unexpectedly endearing hero, whose self-chosen motto is: "I'm not crazy, I'm just colorful."

My wife said:

Things are a little surreal up in here...

She’s right. 

Another review to close out 2009

Hartford Magazine reviewed SOMETHING MISSING for their January 2010 edition, which arrived at my home this week.   

Marion Dooling writes that “Matthew Dicks’s tale about OCD thief Martin Railsback and "’his clients’ is a fun, quirky book that kept me reading far beyond regular bedtime.  His sense of humor and off-beat storyline often made me smile and share passages with friends.”

A nice holiday treat for me!

Foiled by meat

On Sunday my wife and I were driving back from New Haven, listening to the Yankees play the Blue Jays.  We were also in search of a copy of NEWSDAY, as a review of SOMETHING MISSING was scheduled to appear on Sunday.

It was a crucial moment in the ballgame when we pulled into a local 7-11, our fifth stop so far.  NEWSDAY isn’t easy to find in central Connecticut.  With our daughter sleeping in the back, I had been running into the bookstores, convenience stores and gas stations looking for the paper while my wife waited in the car, as would be the case at this stop as well. 

The game was tied at four in the fifth inning.  The Yankees were at bat, two men on, with Derek Jeter at the plate.  He is about half a dozen hits from becoming the all-time Yankee’s hit leader, and he’s having a monster year.  A hit machine. 

The count was two balls-two strikes (any Yankee fan knows that Jeter never gets a hit before he has two strikes on him) when I turned to my wife and asked, “Please listen to what happens here, okay?  I want to know if Jeter gets a hit and if the Yankees take the lead.”

She agreed as I leapt forth from the car and ran into the 7-11, where I at last found copies of NEWSDAY.  I took a moment to confirm that my review was in the paper and then paid for the copy.  I couldn’t have been gone for more than three minutes.

When I returned to the car, there was a commercial advertising hot dogs on the radio.  The inning had ended, though in my heart of hearts, I was hoping that Jeter had hit a homerun and the commercials were signaling a call to the bullpen.  Unlikely but possible.    

“What happened?”  I asked.  


“What happened with Jeter’s at-bat?  Did he get a hit?”

“Oh,” my wife said.  “I wasn’t listening.”

“You weren’t listening?  All I asked you to do was keep track of one at-bat.  And it was nearly over when I left!”

“I know,” she said.  “But I got distracted by that sign for Halal Meat.  Look at that long list of food items, and stuck right in the middle of all that food is Calling Cards.  Weird.  Huh?”

I checked the result of Jeter’s at-bat later, when the blinding glare and psychic gravity of Halal Meat could no longer exert its influence upon my wife.  Jeter walked, but the next batter struck out to end the inning.

The Yankees went on to lose 14-8 in one of their most poorly played games of the year.  But the review, which is not currently available online, was great, and it included a photo of me and the cover of the book.     


Boston Globe review

There was a very favorable review of SOMETHING MISSING in the Boston Globe today.  Among the many pleasing lines from the piece was this gem:

Though the book is essentially a high-concept caper, it is deftly constructed, really exciting at a couple of junctures, moving at others, and very, very funny.

It’s the “very, very funny” descriptor which always surprises me.  Though I’m not absolutely certain, I cannot remember a single moment during the process of writing SOMETHING MISSING when I thought that the book would be funny.  There were moments when my wife would laugh while reading the manuscript and I would have to ask her what she thought was funny, wondering what the hell she could be finding so amusing. 

I think that in the end, Martin’s approach to life is amusing, and as the writer, I merely benefited from this good fortune.

I can’t help but wonder who is the funny one in this relationship: me or Martin?

More attention for SOMETHING MISSING

NEWSDAY is picking up the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's highly favorable review of SOMETHING MISSING to run on Sunday, September 6!  My father-in-law informs me that NEWSDAY has the seventeenth largest circulation in the country.

Not only is the review favorable, but it’s my favorite review thus far.  The writer just seems to understand the book like no other reviewer.

Admittedly, I may be slightly biased. 

Well-timed and welcomed!

It’s after midnight. It’s still incredibly hot and humid, even though I’m on the Connecticut shoreline and the sun has been down for hours.  I’ve just finished loading two tons of DJ equipment into the truck and am preparing for an hour drive back home after spending the last seven hours entertaining at a wedding.  Getting this small, older crowd to dance was like pulling teeth.  I still can’t shake a cold that has plagued me for almost two weeks.  I’m tired, and I haven’t seen my wife and daughter for more than twelve hours. 

Then I receive a message through Twitter that a new review of SOMETHING MISSING has appeared in The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, a paper that my DJ partner tells me that he reads almost daily, being a Packer fan. 

It’s a great review.  Possibly my favorite so far.  Most definitely my favorite paragraph of praise so far:

"Something Missing" is the kind of book that will make you miss your next bus, class or bedtime. Compulsive behavior can make for great comedy, and Dicks makes the most of it. I don't know if the author has watched any Harold Lloyd movies, but he certainly brings the dangling-man-in-peril feel to some of Martin's second-story adventures. Yet he never reduces Martin to a cartoon of an obsessive-compulsive man. Martin is deeply plausible, and somehow noble within the straitjacket of his patterns and elaborate rationalizations.

Best of all, it came at just the right time.  Just when I needed a pick-me-up. 

A well-timed tweet.  Is there anything better?

A fine day

After a long day of fun and sun at Mystic Seaport on the Connecticut shoreline, including a stop in Bank Square Books, an independent book store where I was unable to purchase a copy of the New York Times (but saw their last copy of my book on the shelf), I stopped in at Borders Books just before closing, hoping that they might still have a copy or two.

Imagine being reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review and failing to pick up a copy of the paper.  I was getting a little worried. 

But thankfully, Borders had plenty of copies left.  And though I was in a rush, I still took a moment to locate my book.  It doesn’t matter how many times I see SOMETHING MISSING in a store.  It’s still thrilling. 

There were three copies of the book on the New Fiction shelf, plus a handful of copies in the stacks, cover-side facing out. 

Two different and relatively prominent spots in the store.  I was feeling pretty good about myself. 

Then I saw this as I was standing in line, waiting to pay:

image image

Wow.  The store is relatively local, but still…  

I also received a message today from a reader who told me that for a time, SOMETHING MISSING had cracked the top 1,000 on Amazon’s nearly indecipherable ranking system of book sales, including hitting #15 in the humor category.  While the news was exciting, it’s more humbling to think that someone who has already read my book is taking the time to monitor how it’s doing for me.

Thanks to all who have been so kind and supportive.  You have helped to make nearly perfect days like today possible.

Capping off a perfect day

In addition to the review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, a handful of other reviews of SOMETHING MISSING were published yesterday in a variety of locations, including:

A review by Lindsey Losnedahl, Las Vegas Review-Journal assistant features editor for the Las Vegas Review Journal

A review by John Mesjak, an independent sales rep in the publishing industry and author of the blog

A review by Dorothy Sim-Broder, owner of Written Words Bookstore in Shelton, CT, on her Written Words Bookstore blog

While I’m still over the moon in terms of the review in the Times, these other, quite positive reviews, were like the icing on the cake that was yesterday.

New York Times Sunday Book Review!

No need to wait until Sunday!  The New York Times Sunday Book Review was published online this afternoon, and (I still cannot believe it) my book, SOMETHING MISSING, was included! 

My book.  My name.  In the Sunday Book Review. 

The review is short but very positive, and it’s the third book listed. 

I still can’t believe it.   

New York Times Book Review!

I just received word that SOMETHING MISSING will receive a review in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review.

This is another one of those moments that I will not soon forget. 

Of course, as soon as I received the email from my publicist, I called my wife to tell her of the great news, but she had left her phone at home and was unreachable for about two hours.  Though she rarely does this kind of thing, she always seems to choose the worst moments to do so. 

Instead, I told Dick, the salesman/golf coach who helped me choose a new set of irons, followed by my in-laws.

Elysha was a distant third.

A follower on Twitter asks:  What is The New York Times Book Review? 

Good question.  I’ll quote Wikipedia, which offers a good description:

The New York Times Book Review is a weekly paper-magazine supplement to The New York Times in which current non-fiction and fiction books are reviewed. It is one of the most influential and widely read book review publications in the industry.  Each week the NYTBR receives 750 to 1000 books from authors and publishers in the mail of which 20 to 30 are chosen for review. The selection process is based on finding books that are important and notable, as well as discovering new authors whose books stand above the crowd.