My book Bullets for a Ballot was published as an e-book in March 2012 and, surprisingly to me, is still picking up review comments. This is thanks to David Cranmer, I suspect, offering the book at a bargain price. David created the two main characters, Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles in the short story ‘Cash Laramie and the Masked Devil’ featured in the anthology A Fistful of Legends I edited in 2009. At the end of 2011 he commissioned me to write a novel about these characters; other writers were also being given this opportunity. I was flattered and honoured and started to plot-plan a storyline. I had to be aware of what had already been written as well as salient facts in the Cash Laramie ‘bible’ – i.e. dates of birth, first kill etc.
This might be a good time to address a couple of issues that were raised in a few reviews. There are two instances of adolescent sex – neither gratuitous and the plot to a certain extent hangs on both. Neither is depicted graphically or for titillation. Yet they brought comment. I wasn’t surprised; yet a western, if it’s going to be truthful to its period, must depict what happened at that time. While we rightly deplore it, children as young as twelve were sold into marriage, or into bordellos, and young boys became men able to shoot and kill and do what men do at an early age. It isn’t salacious, it’s a fact – it’s history. Furthermore, having decided on my plot, I was constrained by two dates – Cash’s date of birth and the successful woman’s suffrage in Wyoming, Cash’s home state. To balance the criticism, others were comfortable with it – ‘Loved Cash’s backstory’, for example.
I was aiming at a western tragedy tale and happily this was picked up on by a number of readers. As one put it, ‘I've been trying not to give anything away but this is a very exciting tale - with a bitter-sweet ending.’ While another reasoned, ‘…Bullets for a Ballot follows Aristotle's idea of a Greek Tragedy…’ Not that it was all serious – there are some puns to be groaned over, and allusions to a famous 1953 novel - and one reviewer almost spotted this.
When your book is published, in many ways it ceases to be your property. (As a writer for hire in this case, that is doubly true, as the rights belong to David). It has to go its own way – and stand or fall by the comments and opinions of the readership. Few writers do it for fame or big money, they do it to be read – and that’s where feedback is invaluable.
Reviews are wonderful. Any review is good, if it shows that the reader has actually read the book. Naturally, a particular storyline or set of characters may not appeal to all readers – that would be most odd. We all bring our prejudices, whether good or bad, along with expectations when we begin a book. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, they say, though I’d prefer to think that the opinion would be informed.
On Amazon.com the book has (to date) 17 five-star reviews, 3 four-stars, 4 three-stars, and 3 two-stars.
On Amazon.co.uk it has 6 five-star reviews and 1 four-star (six of these are the same as seen in Amazon.com).
On Goodreads the reviews break down to 5 five-star, 4 four-star, and 2 three-star; 1 one-star! (Again, some of these reviewers are repeats)
With regard to movies, when I read some critics’ reviews, I often wonder if we watched the same film! So it is with book reviews. A 3-star review says it was ‘a quick read – maybe I read it too quickly’ while a 2-star comment states ‘the book drags – didn’t even get halfway…’ You clearly can’t please all the people all of the time.
Another says, ‘A simple and basic plot although rather predictable, it's an interesting enough story…’ while another states, ‘The characters in the book were interesting. The story kept moving with unexpected twists and turns…’ You pay your money and make your choice.
A 3-star reviewer says, ‘Could definitely tell the author was a male.’ Another 5-star reviewer stated, ‘Morton should be commended for giving us an action-packed tale which also contains an undercurrent of feminism. I'm sure you'll agree that it's a western that's hard to put down.’ And a 4-star reviewer: ‘It was great to see a genuine female character in a setting where it easy to ignore them.’ I hasten to add that the reviewer who realised I was male stated she would read my work again - her 3-star review says, ‘…Would read this author again, think he has great storytelling ability.’
It’s always pleasing when a book receives a lengthy review, and this book has garnered several; one particular entry concludes, ‘Morton's pages share with L’Amour’s the authentic feel of western adventure and the relentless, irresistible narrative drive. I don’'t know another author with Morton’s range of time and geography. (Try his A Sudden Vengeance Waits for an exciting crime story set in contemporary England). But wherever he goes, he carries a torch for justice and a talent for pulling the reader into a compelling story.’ [A Sudden Vengeance Waits is now out of print, alas!]
And another long review says, among other things, ‘It is the characters and the settings that make a Western, ultimately they are set in a time, that no person currently living has a reference point for, other than what they have read in other books or seen in movies. Therefore to bring to life something without tangible direct history is an art, and Nik Morton is a master artist in this instance. From the taste and smell of the old west to the feel of the era violence, this is another five-star adventure for Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles… The tale unfolds, as page by page, Cash Laramie is relentless in his pursuit of justice. We learn more about the Marshall, as this story reveals more of the man's character, who he is and why he is driven to do the work of a lawman. The story also exposes just how the west was run, where principles are all very well, but where money also speaks, as do more baser urges.’
I’m not inserting excerpts from these reviews to bolster my ego, but to illustrate that here we have fine examples of informed and considered opinion in reviews. In my own reviews I strive to do that for fellow authors; because authors are readers too.
In the final analysis, like all writers, I hope to entertain readers and possibly supply occasional insights into the human condition along the way, and the readers must be the judges and their verdict is what ultimately matters. So be it.