Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Enchanted April

Rain. Rain. And in case I forgot it's April ... more rain.
I wish I could report that I have a garden of tulips, daffodils and crocuses blooming. I always plan to buy bulbs in the fall to make this magic happen in the Spring but ... I'll be honest, it's hard to push oneself to labour for a reward that's 6 months away.
Hey! Much like writing a novel!
I'm working on Book #3. My original title was scrapped and for good reason. I don't miss it at all. After a bit of brainstorming I came up with THE RIVER BRIDE which my agent liked, so that's the one we're going with.
THE RIVER BRIDE is about jealousy and murder, art and forest fires, marriage and lust. A tangle of passionate, but doomed attachments, playing out in the high heat of summer.
It was going well until Easter. Then family dinners, children home from university, phone calls to siblings, shopping, chocolate, visiting--LIFE--knocked me out of my flow, and now I'm stalling, stumbling, and generally zoning out. It's as if my brain suddenly realized there was a world outside of my imaginary one and it ain't going back.
It would be easier on my brain if there were no holidays at all. Writing is turning me into a feral animal. A hermit who never gets out of her bathrobe. A person who will never have spring flowers in her garden because that would mean thinking about something that wasn't writing.
The most non-writer thing I've done since Christmas was lose 12 pounds. Yes! The 12 pounds I gained when I started writing in 2004 I have FINALLY lost. And you know? It was fun thinking about something that had nothing to do with writing. It was fun mooning about my diet instead of my word count, and going for hikes with the dog in the morning. Le sigh.
Time to wrestle my brain back into the car. Bathroom break is over. We've got a long way to go.
PS: Congratulations Prince William and Kate. I hope you will be very happy. (I get all weepy for Diana, like a faucet, whenever I see her little boy on television.) (Arghhh! Damn it! Brain, get back to work!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Writers, Readers and Reviews

Regarding authors responding negatively (or positively) to the reviews posted by readers on GoodReads or other sites: I wouldn't do it.

Not saying other authors shouldn't but I won't and here's why:

  1. I am a reader. I'm a kinder, gentler reader now that I've written a couple of books of my own and know what's involved. Nevertheless, I am still a reader, and if a book compels to praise or criticize in print or online, I'm going to do it. I expect to voice my opinion in peace without feeling the author is waiting to pounce. It follows that my readers might feel the same way about my work. Yes, it's unnerving but if we can't take the heat, we'd better get out of the kitchen.
  2. Responding to either kudos or criticism feels to me like a form of censorship. If I'm satisfied I've done the best I possibly can with my novel and a reader is less than impressed ... well ... arguing about it is a tad controlling. My ownership of the book ended as soon as it hit the shelves. The reader takes over.
  3. To preserve my sanity. Distance between the art and the audience is necessary to function creatively. A good friend of mine is a talented actress. She told me once that she never reads any of her reviews. She said if she believes the good ones, she has to believe the bad ones. And that can be destructive to an artist. The more I engage in reviews—reading them, responding to them, obsessing over them—the more I jeopardize my creative process. It's tilting at windmills and I won't do it.
  4. Reviews are not written for authors—they are written for readers. We have agents and editors to critique our work. Reviewers are looking out for the readers. Budging into their clubhouse is rude. Praise is fabulous. I won't lie. I'd have given up if it weren't for my early readers who were enthusiastic about my book and let me know it. Their comments are posted on this blog. And conversely, the criticism I received made me feel I was being taken seriously as a writer. But the criticism and the praise were to help readers—not me. I wasn't a factor in the equation. What I got out of their efforts to read my book and comment on it was a gift, not my right as the author.
  5. My opinion just isn't relevant. It's a weird exchange, this art to audience thing. It does not take a deep attachment to the author to be deeply attached to their work. I feel as though I would walk over hot coals for Alice Munro, but I've never met the woman. And if I did I might be disillusioned. She only wrote the stories. I made them what they are by reading them. The artist in any medium is not the point. The art is the point. The audience is the point.


But a note to readers who comment on the reviews that writers have posted:

  1. I've noticed that writers are often accused of envy if they post a negative review of a book. Envy doesn't drive us to criticize a book any more than bootlicking drives us to praise a book. Writers are a passionate opinionated breed and we're really passionate about books. We're not driven by much more than that when we post.
  2. Writers have been publically criticizing the work of their peers for hundreds of years. This isn't new. Books and writers manage to survive regardless.
  3. Writers like one another and support one another, critical reviews aside. A writer criticizes an author's work and defends the author's right to expression with equal gusto.
  4. Unlike many other art forms, writing is done in isolation. Accessing the critical opinions of other writers on all stripes of literature is crucial.
  5. Writers do not subscribe to the "It's-Entertainment-Whaddya-Expect?" school of thinking. Poor writing is not entertaining. Poorly written books are a tough slog to get through. Writers who write reviews expect more of their peers. For example: Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. There is no excuse for the lazy writing in that book. Dan has plenty of money, no pressure there, and he had six years between books so he had the luxury of time. No excuse. And for that reason alone, I was more critical of that book than his others. (See? I'm not a literary snob! I read Dan Brown!)

The main thing is we all keep reading, we all keep reviewing and when we disagree, we all agree to disagree. We're all in this together.