Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Take Criticism at Face-Value, An Opinion

My father didn't come to a reading I gave in my hometown.
Hoorah for Friends.

That's a sentence I'd never thought would show up here, let alone congeal in my own mind.

Let's break this down, for if a blog is worth a cent, it should be for breaking down uncharted territory (at least today it is; at least in the last year it has been for me; you do what you want on your own blog).

Fact one, my father and I have a good, if not arm's length relationship. Fact two, we love one another as finely as any daddy-daughter could love one another. Fact three, people around the small town where I grew up like him. He's a swell guy. Honest, hard-working, appreciates tools and old cars. Fact four, he loves me, loves my kids, generally enjoys retirement and reading. We don't talk by phone every week (mom and I do), but we call when necessary.

He has not read my book. Or, if he has, he has not spoken of it.

What do I make of all this? I've generally lumped it into a category another writer defined for me in 2009, the year I began writing my book -- the Silent Group. She said some people will know of your work, even read it or attempt to read it, and remain mum. Never speak of it, never offer an opinion, never a word of praise or acknowledgment or criticism. Which, in and of itself, is an opinion. It's the opinion, "The work is not for me."

I know the work is not for my dad, chiefly because I've written sex into the book. It's part of the novel. It's not all of the novel, but it is a large enough part of it to be disagreeable to him. I understand this.

One of the lessons I've learned as a writer, particularly in the post-publication phase, is that my work is not for everyone. I didn't set out to please the masses. I set out to please myself. This may or may not, in the eyes of commerical publishing interests, be a good plan for success. Genre fiction evolved for a reason: because it is pleasingly familiar and readers tend to gravitate to formulas. Just take a look at any new movie coming out of Hollywood. They're surprisingly similiar. Familiar. And, in many ways, stale.

I'm not saying my work is a grand slam of fresh ideas or craft. But I didn't stick to a genre romance formula. Partly because I didn't know enough, partly because once I knew, I didn't want to follow the "rules."

Now, I move on. My writing is evolving. It leans toward literary. Yawners, for some people. Pissy sales, most likely. Complicated characters, interior dialogue, and lack of action? Who in the hell reads books without an explosion, death, or bondage any more? I still don't think my father will read my new work. I've cozied up to the fact that he won't. It's okay. It's just another opinion.


  1. I remember asking my father not to attend a concert I had a solo in. I always felt he didn't like the kind of music sang or my voice. I regret asking, because he didn't show up. Now, he's gone and I would give anything to sing for him, whether he appreciates it or not. I don't know if he'd like my fiction, but I'd be happy if he read it--or not. I miss him.

    1. I never officially invited my dad. My assumption is: open door. Maybe if I had of asked, he might have attended.

  2. Good advice--our work isn't for everyone, sometimes even those close to us. We have to do it for our own reasons and motivations and not try to be people-pleasers.

    1. The rule is supposed to be: don't write with someone looking over your shoulder. Sometimes, brutal honesty or unfettered imagination is difficult.

  3. Thank you for this, Jennifer. Very timely for me. I have told my mother I do not want her to read my book. She's not pleased. But I have to protect my creative freedom and keep away all potential wet blankets.

    1. In The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, there's a whole chapter about the importance of a good support circle. Stands rereading often. My toughest critics are my family (perceived?). Them, and myself (not perceived). Hey, post a link to your book so the rest of us can decide whether to read it!


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