Wednesday, July 26, 2006

July SF/F Blog Tour - Day 3 (The Review)

Becky said I couldn't grouse about the bad review Arena got over at Christian Fandom, but it looks like I'm going to talk about it anyway. Actually this isn't going to be a grouse-a-thon, because I happen to think reviewers have a right to say whatever they wish, which I'll get to probably in tomorrow's post. In the meantime, I just want to tell this story because it's funny and the events have been useful in my growth as a writer.

Of course Arena started out with the two amazing reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal, a circumstance utterly wasted on the naive and ignorant me of that time. After years of getting hit with skeptical raised brows from the Christian crowd with regard to the SF element of my work, and from the SF crowd with regard to the Christian element of my work, my paranoid streak was deeply ingrained. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sure enough, the first review ever to come in on Amazon completely trashed the book: it was boring, it was about Christianity -- heaven forbid!-- it was stupid, it was everything bad. Two stars were granted and I have no idea why so many. The funny thing about it was that review was followed within a day by one of the best Amazon reviews the book ever got, and before too many more days the bad one wasn't even on the first page any more.

More reviews and responses came, mostly from romance/women's fiction sites -- Christian and general market -- saying they were really surprised because they never thought they would like science fiction, that it was the first of its genre they'd ever read, and they were amazed. Along with them came various ravings about the romantic side of the story, which I'd always thought of as being secondary. Arena is not technically a romance after all.

Then the Internet guy at Bethany House told me how to troll for reviews. If you type up Bookname by Authorname and put it all in quotes you can find any reviews that have been posted on your work. Well, who could resist? (Only someone who's not been burned too much by that practice.) So I went trolling and found all these nice reviews. Then I hit the one on Christian Fandom. Well, I'd been a member of the CF email loop for awhile before then, even posted a bit of a blurb about Arena's release there. Here, of all places, I thought, I would not have to endure the problem of it being either too-Christian or too-science fiction!

Ah, but I'd forgotten about the clash between the romance lovers and the science fiction lovers! Silly me. I knew very well about the long-standing criticism of early works of SF for its focus on the gizmos, the gadgets, the world building and the brilliant scientific what-ifs, while utterly ignoring characterization. SF writers were repeatedly lectured on the need to create well-rounded characters, and to spend a little more time on relationships, not something that came naturally to most of them. They wrote the way they wrote because they LIKED to write that way! I remember one book telling writers to force themselves to work on the characterization aspects of their stories, no matter how much it grated on them.

So I knew enough not to be surprised. Nevertheless I was. If you've not read the review you can find it HERE (scroll down to the last review). I'll be frank: it hurt. Quite a bit, in fact. It dismayed. It distracted. Not least because... I'm not a huge fan of the genre of romance myself. I enjoy reading the occasional romance, but I tend to get impatient with the format that deliberately keeps the lovers apart for the duration of the book, I don't like the whole "woman tames/heals the man element," and, yes, the flowery, emotional language tends to make me cringe. They say that criticism hurts the most when it contains an element of truth, and the idea that I had written some of that emotional, purple prose was mortifying! Especially when it was hauled out of its context and set there naked for everyone to read, bereft of the emotional buildup that makes it work in the actual narrative. (Or not, depending on the reader.)

There's a certain dismay as well in knowing that you've disgusted, nauseated and revolted someone. I don't think any writer sits down with the intension of generating revulsion in their readers. (Wait. Maybe not, now that I think of some of the things I've read in King and Koontz!) But when you don't intend it, and do anyway, you feel as if you've done something embarrassingly offensive in public. Guilt and nausea well up in you, and your heart races. Later, usually when you're trying to write again, it all comes back to haunt you, reminding you of the awful thing you did and how bad a writer you are, and now you're utterly frozen.

Well, that sort of thing comes with the territory. If you don't learn to get over it, you don't write. So I did put it behind me: Different strokes for different folks, the book was about much more than its romantic elements, and I know that some people hate romance. Whenever you put something out for public consumption you know you are going to hear from those who don't like what you did. In retrospect I'm just happy to have had any review at all.

But the story doesn't end there, and this is the funny part. About nine months after I'd first found the review and had for the most part forgotten it, Greg emailed me a copy of it, apologizing for not having sent it to me when he first posted it. "What! I have to look at this again?" I'm not sure if I responded to him. It was hard to say thank you... but I might have; I know that I considered it. In any case, I went through all that angst again, put it behind me again, and went on.

Six months later, Bethany House sent me a hard copy of that same review as part of a new policy to send whatever reviews their Internet people had found online during the specified time period. Yowie! What IS this? Again, I went through the drill, put it behind me and went on.

Then, believe it or not, six months after that Bethany House sent me yet another hard copy of it! LOL Will I never get away from this review??

I know the Lord allowed it all to happen. And now I'm grateful for it. But I'll talk about that tomorrow.

I do have to add, however, that Greg recognizes the different strokes for different folks principle and welcomes having others contribute their opinions to the reviews on the Fandom Site. If you've not had a chance to check the site out, or if you'd like to continue doing so, you can click HERE.

Have fun