Monday, November 19, 2018

You Know What They Say About Opinions ...

I'll be the first to admit I'm not much of a comic book reader. Even as a kid, I preferred immersing myself in words and I think the comics I did see when I was young weren't the best. Of course, I grew up in a town without a bookstore, before the days of Amazon, so options were pretty limited. 

And I certainly don't remember our library having a comics section.

Which means that I could have been a comics fan, with the right exposure. I think all I ever saw was geared to five-year-old readers. 

That said, we've always been very happy to encourage comic book reading. We're happy to encourage any reading, and a gift certificate to the nearby comic book store has been a regular holiday present for one of the kids for years. 

This past week, Stan Lee passed away, and Bill Maher barely held a breath before he took out a big stick and started bashing Lee and comic book readers.

"The guy who created Spider-Man and the Hulk has died, and America is in mourning. Deep, deep mourning for a man who inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie, I guess."

Now, when I first saw headlines and links about this on social media, I wondered if it was a joke. I mean, he goes on to infer comic book reading is to blame for Trump.

"I’m not saying we’ve necessarily gotten stupider. The average Joe is smarter in a lot of ways than he was in, say, the 1940s, when a big night out was a Three Stooges short and a Carmen Miranda musical. The problem is, we’re using our smarts on stupid stuff. I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important."

Now, I could easily slip back to my communication theory studies from college and talk Neil Postman and why Bill Maher is so very wrong and what he doesn't understand about communication theory, but that would detract from my intended point here.

Simply, there will always be people out there who will take a piss all over you the first chance they get. I think Maher is wrong, and it makes me wonder how sad he is that he has to criticize a person who just passed away and blame all the problems of the world on that person.

I'd say he (sadly) doesn't understand the concept of superhero stories at all, or why they resonate with so many people. What a shame that he doesn't grasp how beautiful and important stories are. That's truly tragic. Imagine living a life unable to appreciate great stories. Why go on?

He does prove a point, though. There will be people who are petty. There will be people who don't like you just because they knew someone named 'Sandra' or 'Bob' or 'Tim' or 'Susie' decades ago who they didn't get along with.

And some of those people may just be waiting for an opportunity to cut you down a peg or two.

When I started writing what became my first published novel, my goal was just to finish a manuscript. I'd started many and abandoned them over the years.

Once I actually finished the story, the goal changed. It needed to be a good manuscript.

Eventually, it needed to be read. Which meant it needed to be published.

In some ways, that felt like an unending series of changing goal posts that left me always falling short of some mark. You get published and that isn't enough, either. You want to get good reviews. You want to be read. You want your work to be popular and liked.

After all, we're all just trying to entertain people in our own way, right? That's what we, as novelists, do. We tell stories.

But man, there always has to be someone to rip you apart* for that effort.

You've attempted a manuscript? Actually put your butt in the chair and typed at it for days/weeks/months/years? Then you've done something that most people haven't, and that's an accomplishment. You've tried.

You finished a manuscript? Maybe it's a hot mess and needs extensive editing, but you've actually told your story and gotten a draft done? That's a huge achievement.

Wait ... You got published? Not by your mommy or a buddy? Some stranger took your baby and said it was beautiful and they wanted to help share it with the world?

That's tremendous. It's an extraordinary feat.

Don't let anyone ever take that from you.

Look ... On a certain level, anyone who starts submitting a manuscript has to have enough ego to think that they have done a decent job and that their story is worth publishing, but that doesn't mean every published author needs to be taken down a peg or two. I went to school. I got good grades in writing. I had a straight 4.0 in my journalism courses in college. That's how I know I can write. It's an objective assessment based on my education.

But I'm not going to run around going, "Me me me me me," because I don't happen to think I'm the hottest thing ever. I'm a storyteller. I set my own goals for each work and measure my success by whether or not I achieve my personal goals.

I'd love to be read. I'd love for people to connect with my characters. That simply means something that was important to me resonates with other people, and that's cool.

But in this business, there are a long list of people ready to tell you all the ways you don't measure up, and it's disheartening.

The flip side is, there are a lot of people who also don't consider anything but success level or friendship. I never thought writing books would be so much about popularity, but it is. "Big" authors who will only blurb other "big" authors because it raises their own profile, instead of endorsing newer unknown writers. Friends review friends, some focus on the "big" books because more people will read their opinions, etc. etc.

I'm not saying you aren't allowed to like what friends produce. I'm also not saying you aren't allowed to like what's popular.

It's just too bad that so much of what's out there seems to either be about tearing people down or buttering up people you think can help you.

Do you. Do it because it's sincere. Frankly, I don't trust anyone who isn't capable of being a total fan about someone living and breathing who is producing art in the field they aspire to. Have that author you unapologetically acknowledge is your go-to comfort book/entertainment source provider year in and year out.

If you don't hear that X author has a new book coming out and run to mark it on your calendar or pre-order immediately, if you don't read a book description and think, Hell yeah, I HAVE to read that and why is that author so freaking smart that they came up with that concept and I didn't? then I don't even know why you'd want to be published.

Be real.

And for those of you who feel like you're at the bottom, trying to claw your way in, take heart. Every single step in the process of publishing marks success. It takes passion to attempt to write a manuscript. It takes determination and commitment to complete one. It takes willingness to grow and learn and master skills to effectively edit and revise one.

And it takes nerves of steel to be published.

So, if you're anywhere in that process, a virtual hug from me. Or from a virtual avatar I create if you prefer something younger with perfect teeth.


1. Another person's success doesn't mean there's less success for you to have. It isn't pie. When people read a great book they want to read another great book. When people read a bad book they want to rake leaves in the forest.

2. You don't have to be mean. Sure you can jump on the 'is Franzen sexist?' bandwagon or join his hate club, but what does that get you? Hate. Negativity. It's kinda like the Democrats eating their young. Sure, Bill Clinton didn't actually write his novel, but I've been hired to ghostwrite and I know many others who have been as well. What Bill Clinton did do? Got some people who don't usually read much to read a book.

3. Have some integrity. I have mad respect for Heidi Heitkamp. She may not be a senator anymore, but she made a choice knowing that was the likely result. And she still made that choice:

"If this were a political decision for me I certainly would be deciding the other way," Heitkamp said in the interview. "History will judge you, but most importantly you will judge yourself."

Maybe nobody will acknowledge your accomplishments today. Some days, it would be nice to get an email saying, "You rock" or that you're a good writer or that you have a powerful voice and we need more from you. Most days you won't get that.

So hold on to those moments when you do and keep going. The only way we fail is if we quit. (Or, perhaps, if we join a clique and lose our integrity in the process of selling our soul for 10 seconds of fame.)

Side Notes

Now, since the question of legitimacy of 'best of' compilations has been raised, I'm going to share that my plan is to do an advent calendar of likes December 1-24 over at my site. There will be a new issue up this week and then we move on to the advent calendar.

And I'll disclose any connection I know I have to any source of entertainment I endorse.

Kinda sad it even needs to be said. However, I agree with Jim. I ignore almost all 'best of' lists from almost every single source. Brian writes a 'shit I liked' summary specifically to avoid the issue. 

(Of course, this sort of undermines awards as well, doesn't it, because not all books in any category published in any year are read and considered. That's another topic, though.)

The fact that this even needs to be said is evidence of another problem. Buttering up for personal gains.

If you're only going to review/endorse your buddies? That's part of the reason blurbs, endorsements and reviews mean so little to so many people. It cheapens the process.

*I'm not talking about legitimate reviews/critics. They have their place. I've been trained to write reviews in college, and when there's a system in place for standards they can be very helpful, for both readers and writers.

That said, even amongst "industry" standards, there are some reviewers who hide behind the veil of anonymity to poke at people they don't like. I've read reviews from amateurs and pros alike that are clearly personal. And I'm not talking about saying, "This didn't work for me because ... " I'm talking about reviews that are about the person rather than the product.

There's a real dilemma now with the ease of posting fake reviews for all sorts of products, books included. So much so that some book reviewing outlets have some clear guidelines about not making a book review personal and people have actually needed to talk about this issue and how to avoid personal attacks in reviews.

Some have been public about the fact they've felt reviews have been personal. I haven't read all the reviews, so I really don't know, but Morrissey does have one point here. Some reviewers want to make it be about them and their opinion. That's why I'm happy to post a review saying, "This didn't work for me, but check out this review over here and get another perspective - it still may be a book you're going to love, even if I didn't."

Oh, and here is a link to a review of Morrissey's book. I'm not sure I've even had a one-star review that's ever been this brutal.

PS: Oh, and when I review? I am always looking for a reason to like a book. I never start reading a book wanting it to be bad. I always want to be blown away.

Yes, I have to be honest if there are issues ... but I'm also savvy enough to know that sometimes, it's simply a question of taste, and sometimes it's simply a question of not being in the right place for a certain story. (First time we started the Leftovers we abandoned it and then when I tried again, months later, I loved it.)

Even when I have the reviewer cap on (and I have been a paid reviewer for several years now) I'm mindful of that.

And I am specifically reviewing a lot outside the genre these days to avoid presumed conflicts. And because there's a lot of great stuff being published outside the genre ... and sometimes, there's too much circle-jerk/I'll-only-link-to-my-buddy's stuff nonsense in the genre.

1 comment:

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Maher is dead wrong. Period.

I quit doing best of lists becuase some who did not make it would email and ask why. Not just why, but why so and so did instead. It became not about what had blown me away, but was seen by far too many as a slight against those folks not included. Enough was enough. It got to be too stressful on this end.The last thing I ever need is more stress.

I have also learned in recent weeks that some folks only appreciated me for the reviews I did and did not give a damn about me as a person. Since they had no new book coming out, they dropped me on FB.

I am still reviewing folks I know at some level, but I also review plenty of folks that I don't know at all. I continue to ignore the nonsense that come from some folks saying I do not review enough women, people of color, space aliens looking for love, or , folks think I should be reviewing.

The nonsense gets old. But, we persist.....