"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The moment I've been waiting for could wait a moment longer.

For those of you who are published authors and have been down this road before, I ask for some indulgence of my wide-eyed innocence.

Before Freezer Burn was published, it was read by lots of people, in bits and pieces. Agents looked at it; so did editors, publishers, and other writers. I listened to the critiques carefully, applied the rule of three when I wasn't certain about a change (get the same comment from three independent sources), and tried to lock my ego in the cabinet when someone's opinion rubbed me like sandpaper.

Now that my work is done and between covers, I feel confident that I've told a fun story in an entertaining way. Could it be improved? Probably. Is there truly a book out there without flaw? (Let's leave sacred writings out of that question, for tolerance's sake.) My philosophy is this: If you like my book, read it. If you don't, put it down. And God grant me the serenity to ignore the reviews.

Which brings me to my wide-eyed ignorance:

You see, I already have some pre-release copies of my book, a few of which I've sent to people for favorable blurbs (I've already told them that, if they don't like my book, silence is golden - please don't try to spin, "it made me want to throw up in my mouth" into glowing praise). In addition, although I'm having a launch party in July, some of my friends want to read the book ahead of the party, so I've been selling them copies.

There's my problem. I heard from one of my friends, who hasn't finished my book, but who knows two other friends who did. She said the other two thought it was funny that I never described Peri in the book.


On page 12, she bends her tall frame to look into a freezer, remarking that it's 50 years old, like her. On page 28, she fluffs her Nordic blonde hair. On page 186, she points to her freckled arm and describes her parents as very blond and Viking… I could continue, but you see what this did to me? I was certain that I had described enough of Peri to make her flesh and blood, and equally certain that no one else ever mentioned that before.

But it gets worse. My friend then relayed the information that one of the other gals "had notes." Notes?

"She's very literary," my friend said. "Don't you want to know how to make your next book stronger, if you plan to make a living doing this?"

Good thing I subscribe to WWPD?* I knew just how to reply.

"No. I know where to go when I want a critique. All I want from friends and family is adulation. If you read it and like it, tell me. If you read it and don't like it, shut the hell up. If you don't want to read it under those conditions, don't read it at all."

Too harsh?

I spent the rest of the day in a foul mood, wondering why some people think it's their unsolicited business to improve the way I do things.

I was still trying to shake it off when I got this email from Gordon Kirkland, one of my reviewers, an author who has won Canada's Stephen Leacock Award of Merit for Humour three times, and a writer I respect:

"I just finished reading an advance copy of Gayle’s first novel, Freezer Burn, a mystery with Gayle’s unique comedic voice spread all over it. It brings together a rather odd group of characters, with a couple of strange bodies thrown in for good measure.

I won’t give the plot away, other than to say it twists and turns like a highway designed by a drunken surveyor.

It makes a great summer read!"

In case you're wondering, we had a little online chat last night, where he told me he truly did like my book, mentioned a couple of the subplots in particular, and had no notes for me. So if nothing else, I learned yesterday not to read reviews, and that Gordon likes me! He really likes me!

*WWPD? = What Would Peri Do?


Mary Cunningham said...

Oh, Gayle. I had to laugh at your response, and also committed it to memory!

Sandra Novack, who just had a novel published by Random House, said that the last time she went back home, everyone asked her if she was "still trying to do that writer thing."

Steer clear of critiques from friends and family. LOL!


Elle Parker said...

I don't think I could ever ignore reviews, good or bad - I need to know. And most of the time, I generally find the feedback useful. I've had to learn to take things with a grain of salt and consider the source, of course - but I want to know what people think, good or bad. I am planning to write another book after all, and I'm finding it useful to see what seems to translate well, and what doesn't.

Elle Parker

Tameri Etherton said...

What a hoot! I would love to see your friends' notes. Notes! I suffer from having a mother who was an elementary school teacher for half a century. She loves to give me hints of how I could improve my writing and get published (all of which she gets from her Romantic Times magazine). Deep breaths, my friend!

And really, if Gordon likes you and the book, that's all that really matters.

But seriously, critiques are simply one person's opinion. Good or bad and there's not a darn thing we can do about them. Listen, take what you can, and toss the rest.

Gayle Carline said...

Oh, Tameri - deep breaths, indeed! I truly believe that, every time you hold your tongue when your mom "helps" you, a pound of good karma is laid at your door!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Boy, this one hits home. But I'll read every one. Many times. Can't help myself.


Unknown said...

Gayle, it's funny how you call those people your friends. Apparently they haven't read the book in it's entirety, or perhaps THEY need to learn to read better.
As much as "everyone is entitled to their own opinion", it is obvious to me, those "friends" you have mentioned are trying to play a role they are not cut out for.
In response to your friends NOTES< you should reply: I'll take a note of it, and walk away.

I am yet to read your Freezer Burn, but I do read your columns, and blogs and love it. As a neophyte and writer wannabe, I stay away from making comments on subjects foreign to me, and I know well ( and agree with Mary Cunningham ) to avoid family and friends when it comes to critiquing my writing, whether it is in my own native language or the one I am still learning :)

Nick said...

The "Notes" thing has to be killing you right? I mean how can you not want to see them. They might be quite funny or infuriating. So yeah, maybe not. Heck, I'm curious.


Gayle Carline said...

Nick - I am a curious person by nature, but I stopped being curious about other people's opinions of my work when I stopped being curious about their opinions of my life. I am a white woman married to a black man; I'm pretty sure there are opinions floating around about that. The day they pay my bills, clean my house, and wipe my - mouth, I'll listen to what they have to say.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I have so been there - wish I had come up with your response! :)Congratulations on the good review!

Jane Kennedy Sutton

KK Brees said...

Hi Sally. Yes, your moment at the Academy Awards has arrived! Seriously, you've nailed it. We share our baby with friends and family and many feel it's their duty to point out the one typo in 356 pages or......

Congrats! Break a leg, Norma Rae.

C. Margery Kempe said...

It's always easiest to graciously say, "Thank you for taking so much of your time to do this" and then ignore it all. All criticism is not equal. People who read your mystery expecting a romance or a spry thriller are not going to be especially helpful, for example.

Ali Trotta said...

"I spent the rest of the day in a foul mood, wondering why some people think it's their unsolicited business to improve the way I do things. "

I can relate. I've had similar disquieting encounters with friends, regarding my writing. Quite frankly, it's insulting. When I finished my manuscript, I gave it to a friend to read. Bad idea. Why? A myriad of reasons, really. I knew it was a mistake when she couldn't get the main character's name right. And it's not a difficult name.

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