Thursday, March 19, 2015

First-World Problems

I pride myself on posting blogs that come from the heart. I figured that was the expectation -- to tell the truth and the whole truth about the writing life: the good, the bad, and the ugly -- when I signed on to do Thursday posts several years ago.

So here goes.

It hasn't been a great week. I'm oh-for-one on reviews for the second Peyton Cote novel, Fallen Sparrow (June 8). Kirkus ends a summary-packed review with "although Keeley clearly hoped to outdo himself in Peyton's second adventure, he gets in his own way with a monotonous style and a cluster of extraneous characters. Still, his tough but compassionate heroine triumphs against the odds."

Despite the plot summary, the book's most important character, not named Peyton Cote, isn't mentioned, leaving me astonished. My editor had the same response. My agent, as you would expect, is ever-supportive and says the review ends on a high note and there are more important reviews coming.

So what's the point of sharing this?

Writers are supposed to say they don't read the reviews; the reviews don't bother them; or that they never even see the reviews. Let's face it: that's B.S., and we all know it. I read my reviews. I want the feedback. I'm trying constantly to get better. But this one -- ending on a high note or not -- left me perplexed. How does one miss the novel's second most important character? Sour grapes? Maybe. Hell, probably. I put a lot of time into that book, tried to experiment syntactically more than in previous novels, and I admit that I certainly hope other reviews are better.

The only important question after a poor review is Where do we go from here? I was a college athlete before I was a writer, a hockey goalie. I played in hostile rinks where three thousand people chanted my name followed by SUCKS! I know how to get up and dust myself off.

No one was better at doing that than my late father. "It could always be worse" was his mantra. Through esophageal cancer, through chemo, through a loss of sixty pounds, through the final X-ray telling him (and us) the miracle we hoped for was not to be. One of the last things he ever said to me came following that X-ray. He lay on his gurney in the hallway of the Maine Medical Center. I knew what the final X-ray showed, what the results meant, and could think of nothing more poignant than "How are you doing?"

He turned his head to look at me. "It could be worse."

"Worse?" I said. "How could it be worse?"

"There was a little girl leaving the X-ray room when I went in," he said. "She looked like my granddaughter. That would be worse."

So, at the end of the day, I write because I love it. And I write for me. A bad review is only that and quite clearly a first-world problem. Life could always be worse -- and is -- for many others.

1 comment:

Eileen Goudge said...

We've all been there, John. A peril of the profession. I once took to my bed after a not-so-good review in PW. I try to shine it on and move on, but it's easier said than done. I'm sure yours is a terrific book. In fact now I'm curious to read it.