Criticism

Kage Baker hated reading her reviews.  She knew that if they were good, she’d get euphoric, but it would be temporary; an emotional sugar rush. And if they were bad, she’d be totally, dreadfully, suicidally depressed. She just couldn’t establish a moderate approach to them.

It was tremendous fun when she got an accolade or a prize – her exuberance was huge and contagious, especially when she was dancing around the living room with Harry the parrot screeching happily from the back of her chair – he loved it when someone danced; he’s just a riotous sort of guy. Then it was double chips and beans for everyone, as they say, and paper parasols in all the drinks.

When a review was bad, though, it destroyed her. Even when it was from a perfect stranger, or from someone whom she knew was a pointless noisemaker. And there are such in any genre, people who write scads of reviews (not always bad) just in order to get their own name some attention; authors dread them, since they write their reviews in such careless haste that they are not only not helpful, they can turn other readers off the work.

Mostly it was just that the effects of bad reviews lasted longer than the good ones, for Kage. And they sent her into such a Slough of Despond that for a while, she couldn’t write. Bad reviews were one of the few things that caused writer’s block, for Kage. “What’s the point?” she’d moan, slumped in her chair and tying knots in the end of her braid. “I’m a hack – a failure – a waste of time.”

“Oh nooooo,” Harry would wail.

“Stop reading the damned Amazon reviews!” I would tell her. And she’d promise, and be good for a while – until curiosity got the better of her and she sneaked a peak when she thought I wasn’t looking …

Usually, I read her reviews first, at her request. It was the system we finally hit on: I read them and gave her a translation if it was bad. Bad reviews can be very helpful to the writer, in that they can show one where one’s faults lie. They can also identify jerks out there in the blogosphere, so you know who to avoid … but for Kage, it was a case of being able to keep writing. So whenever possible, I was the last content filter.

Same thing with rejection letters – I read them first and passed on redacted translations. Kage was aware good observations could be gleaned from both critics and editors: she just needed them in a form she could survive reading. Some she never, ever did read – they were just too nasty. But their observations were useful nonetheless.

The problem with Amazon reviews was – and is – that they are like poisoned cocktail party snacks: they’re there in the open, they are bright and alluring, they are free and they just may make you very sick … writers risk depression, severe angst, late night  and early morning despair by reading the things. I know that. I reminded Kage of it  all the time. But, you know, that bowl of Spanish peanuts looks soooo tasty …

The reviews for Nell Gwynne II have thus far been decent. Some have been actually good! The decent ones are the most I realistically anticipated, so the glowing ones have been a tremendous boost to me. I’m not dancing yet, but it’s mostly because I’ve just never been the dancing sort … and, you know, it’s early times yet. And then this morning I went and looked at the Amazon reviews – sigh.

I shall not do that again. It’s pointless and painful. And Kage was correct – praise is wonderful but fragile in the memory: bad reviews carry much more weight and burrow right into the center of your soul. What really pissed me off was that the review didn’t mention me at all: while complaining that it didn’t read like Kage had actually written much of it, the critic also laid the blame for the story’s faults directly on her.  Which is unfair, and doubly so in that she can’t defend herself.

However, such are the perils of exposing one’s self in writing. A book is a delicate edifice. Anyone with a few bucks can write rude things on your walls, and the author is not allowed to hunt them down and shoot them with lots of small, non-fatal but very painful darts … not that I’ve been brooding over this. Nope, not me.

And anyway, in the meantime, I also got a nice email this morning. Mr. Stefan Raets, who has been interviewing me via the aether this last week or two, has posted that review on his site today. Here is the link he sent me: http://farbeyondreality.com/2013/01/31/author-interview-kathleen-bartholomew-sister-of-kage-baker/

Do take a look, Dear Readers. I had fun answering his questions. May his site get lots of traffic!

And now, I must go dance with a parrot …