Thursday, July 23, 2015

Criticism Survival Kit

I don't handle criticism as well as I would like, but I have found a system that works for me. Here’s the blueprint:

1. Go into shock
2. Get defensive
3. Apologize
4. Make bad joke
5. Make excuses
6. Suck up to critic
7. Go, essentially, catatonic
8. Stare down at notebook
9. Scribble 
10. Leave room
11. Crawl into deep hole
12. Claw at earthy walls
13. Pace/cry/whimper
14. Clean dirt from nails
15. Crawl out
16. Go for long walk
17. Talk about it with loving husband 
18. Talk about it with understanding friend 
19. Realize critic was right
20. Make edits based on criticism
21. Laugh about the whole thing at brunch

Anyways, yesterday, while speed walking on a treadmill -- and nearly falling off because I checked out my own butt -- I listened to a DEAR SUGAR podcast. Featuring everybody's favourite guy ever, George Saunders, the podcast goes over different ways writers deal with bad reviews and criticism. I found it helpful, and so I wanted to share.

It didn't help me streamline my patented 21-step system, but it did put things into perspective. It also emphasized the benefits of good criticism, namely that sometimes (or, in my case, always) the critics are right. 

Thanks to the very talented author Rebecca Rosenblum for tweeting this out. Check out her blog if you can. It’s full of goodies for writers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Okay, he's really REALLY going to hate it (an addendum)

I just did a "find" search in my manuscript and all I can say is: Oh. No.

I knew I swore and stuff, but I didn't realize I actually pulled a Crummey! At least my "JF" doesn't pop up until page 200 or so. I wonder if my dad will make it that far?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My dad is going to hate it

I am my father’s daughter. I have his eyes and his shoulders and his skin, and his love for talking in circles. But our opinions couldn’t be more different. This of course makes for fascinating "conversation" when we get together -- the kind that causes my sister to flee the room and my husband to cringe politely on the couch. It gets heated, sure, but never above bath water because we both know our limits. We’re experienced blowhards. We’ve been debating the same issues for 10 years in the hopes that -- one glorious day -- the other will give in.

I visited my dad in Ottawa on the weekend and, as per tradition, we stood on our soapboxes and got into it: abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia. But soon the conversation turned to more serious matters: books. 

My father used to read literary fiction — Hemingway, Steinbeck, Updike, Salinger. In his later years, though, he switched to Christian novels almost exclusively because:

1) They're easy to read, which, 10 years into his retirement, he appreciates
2) He can relate to the values
3) "They talk about what actually matters in real life” — which, to my father, means religious faith

Things caught fire when I asked my dad what he was reading. He told me he gave Michael Crummey’s Sweetland a try. Crummey is literary writer, so I was excited. Maybe my opinions and tastes were finally winning my dad over, I thought. Maybe he was giving in!


“I stopped reading it after the first page,” my dad said.

Why, I asked.

“Because the author went too far, Em. There was no need to say what he said! And if I ever see him, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind!”

My dad was referring to offensive language, he clarified when pressed, but he wouldn’t say what language exactly. He was really pissed, though, and I feared that he'd be scared off literary fiction for good! And just when it pulled him back in!

In my panic, I tried reasoning with him from the author's (so, my) point of view:

1) Bad language is sometimes necessary to create realistic characters.
2) Just because Michael Crummey used a bad word doesn't mean Michael Crummey is a bad guy.
3) Would you, like, chillax, dad? It's just one word in a book of 85,000!

But my dad didn't care. The word, whatever it was, was so repugnant that he returned the book to the store, demanding a refund. He would have preferred a personal apology from Michael Crummey himself, but he lives in Newfoundland, which, my dad conceded, makes that logistically unlikely.

I’d rarely seen my dad so irate. It was a fire that usually only came out of him when debating the state of women’s professional tennis. I begged him to tell me what the exact word was that set him off, but he wouldn't repeat it. So, later that night, I downloaded the novel. And much like Serena Williams in a crowd at Wimbledon, the offending phrase was impossible to miss:

So, yeah. I now know for certain that my father will HATE my novel. 

I just hope he doesn’t demand a refund.