My Apologies for the Scathing Reviews

I have been looking for an agent, which is a blog post for another day. As part of this process, I have had to cozy up to agents with a remark or two in each query, indicating that I understood who they were and why I have picked them out of the thousands of agents, to ask to read my manuscript. There are different reasons that I give: I am a fan of one of their clients; I think my writing is like one of their client’s; they have an impressive track record; they represent clients in a way I would like to be represented; our ideals jive; my book fits into the genre that they are seeking; my catalogue fits into genres that they represent…

That’s about it, so far. I may have to get more creative as I mine deeper and deeper into the list that I have made (and even past that list on to a new list. Let’s hope for more brevity in the search). My point is that because I have been looking at their clients and then also giving them my information including my website, I have become paranoid about a NUMBER of things, including them coming across a mean review that I might have written about one of their books or clients. That would be bad, right? It seems unideal.

The truth is, I have always hated writing scathing reviews and not least of all because I know that I will receive them myself and I see these authors as fellow-writers and fellow-human beings. But I am also honest to a fault, which isn’t the same thing as right all the time, which I am definitely not. Then again, a reading of a book is often subjective, and where there is objective criticism (or praise) to give, I believe I am in some position to give it. As if I had all the time in the world to do each review. In reality and on the whole, my reviews are anything but thorough, and show a slice of my own life as much as a peek into the book I am reviewing.

I also, many times, have pointed out that my review does not negate the sometimes large and vocal fan base of a book or author. In other words, I have certain standards and they don’t always line up with yours, or with pop culture, or with a tween’s, or a romance fan’s, or whatever. I have many times acknowledged that whole swaths of the population will (and indeed, probably should) ignore my review for such and such a reason and go ahead and read something I didn’t like or don’t read something I did like.

All that said, I agree that I deserve much of what may befall me. Not all of it, because I do believe that I have been fair and honest and even diplomatic and some people are mean and will be mean to me and to my books, they will be dishonest (like when they rate a book before they read it) or anything but diplomatic. (Trolls!) Also, cultures are prone to crucify those that don’t fall in line with the party. This happens right here in America, every day, and on the stage of media no less than anywhere else. In other words, I have a fear that I will be called to account for a minutiae in my life or works (that might be honest, just different or not currently PC) and will seek in vain for justice when it comes to the meting of a sentence. I have seen greats topple, the proud humbled, the powerful smashed to smithereens for issues of rhetoric, free speech, or a difference in beliefs. Could this happen to me? Of course. Would it be unfair? As it always is. Survival can be a matter of pliability, of which I am not.

But I am kind, though my logical mind and candid disposition can make it seem otherwise. Or can provide sway away from kindness, but I try hard to be kind. I would like to give smiley face stickers to every book I read and I have considered just reviewing books that I could recommend. Alas, this is not the journey I am on here, on The Starving Artist. So what is my journey? Well, essentially my journey is from obscurity to fame. (Ha!) But paralleling the writing journey is one very much connected to it: a reading journey. The book reviews are my reading journey. I don’t mind steering someone away from a book I didn’t find rewarding, and I enjoy handing someone a pass to read a truly great book. I love celebrating the beautiful in art, whether that be in the science of plotting or the poetry of language, a character you can take into your dreams at night or even a scenery that broke right out of the page into a movie. But I also just enjoy it when people read, and I’m not really even all that picky about it. It’s like this: I’m not a “creature person,” but whenever I see a person and their pet, especially a dog, it makes my heart sing. I’m picky about what I read, but a person with a book in hand is a joy.

That said, sometimes I have to restrain myself in the dairy section of the grocery store. Especially before a certain awareness, there were many times I saw a person perusing all those little, white cups of yogurt with cartoonish fruit on the sides and I wanted so bad to actually hit the cup out of someone’s hands. Why? Because I understood that many of the household-name brands were packaging what didn’t even really amount to yogurt but more to an over-sweetened, artificially flavored, skim milk gel (using gelatin, maybe, but other thickeners, as well). Probiotics were an add-on, sometimes not even to the point of any effectiveness. I knew what yogurt was, historically, what it could be and what it had to offer. No wonder I wanted to slap the imposters out of their hands. It wasn’t vengeance. It was concern. Same thing with books, which I also know quite a bit about.

I also wonder: when will this blog become obsolete? I have, for a very long time, imagined that I would always have it, that I would just add on to it, give it a face-lift, tweak it when needed and over the decades. However, looking at it through the eyes of a potential agent, I don’t know if it can be that way. Perhaps an editor or publisher—or even the agent—makes me scrap the whole thing and start my PR from a different angle? Or they make me revamp the page so much that my old content is banished to a less-visible part of the never-forgetting internet? Maybe I shouldn’t have said those things. Maybe I shouldn’t have alienated Chris Colfer, Stephen Lawhead, or Neil Gaiman. Or maybe I should have liked Little Fires Everywhere or not compared my white experience to the black experience in The Turner House (though it was remarkably similar). It’s hard to keep up and it’s impossible to keep everyone happy.

Most of all, me.

In conclusion, if you have been the brunt of my bad review, or have felt the sting of my coldhearted judgement, I am sorry-not-sorry. Yes, the phrase is of the moment and overused, but I do find that it has a place in our language that I’m not sure any other word or phrase quite covers. I am sorry in that glossy, watery way, where I might, for my own convenience or your comfort, wish it hadn’t happened. Like when someone says, “I’m sorry that your dog died.” But I am not repentant, because I’m not sorry in that other way. (There are many things that I am sorry and repentant for, but they do not include any book reviews I can think of.) I have been honest. I have been as careful as I can be. And one day I might be forced to un-say that which I have said in order to avoid future damage; a prettier, nicer face to my fellow-writers and their life’s blood. Or maybe I’ll be let run riot, because it is, after all and for pity’s sake, just an opinion.

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