Ups & Downs of Writing Part 2
Now, let me turn to some of the minor villains of the business: proofreaders. By and large, this thankless task is one that I am unable to do. I lack the gift and I happily defer to those who can do it. I shall ignore the good ones and focus on the irksome ones I’ve dealt with. These people must either be frustrated or stunted writers themselves. I don’t mind the proofreaders who simply don’t understand a reference because it lies outside their experience; they are right to question it. And I don’t mind even the nit-picking proofer—he or she does every writer a service. I mean the kind who insist there can’t be more than an arbitrary number of sentences per page where the “I” pronoun begins a sentence or the kind who write little sarcastic comments in the margins. Like internet trolls, they know they’ll never have to look a writer in the eye when they dash out an editorial rebuke, as if they arbitrate standards for all. I had one obnoxious proofer who dropped “Really?” in a couple sticky notes after an image he found distasteful in my story or who would interject the superior value of his own experience, as if we were collaborating. (My revenge was sweet: that snob turned into a character I killed off.)
Next, the most critical element of the writing game—the reader. They are legion. Not mine, of course, but in the eclecticism of their tastes and standards. I accept as true most readers of mystery fiction are women, but I have had an equal share of positive/negative responses. The assumption that women readers are wedded forever to the cozy and disdain the hardboiled might be a gender assumption no longer viable. Having generalized thusly, I would also say the readers I have experienced vicariously through Amazon or Goodreads critiques have been diverse in their responses. My books have been praised and demolished, in that kindergarten fashion of awarding and withholding of stars, but through the comments. Mine, no different from many, have ranged from “kind” through the crap-sandwich variety (a couple slices of bread separating a glob of—well, you know) to the out-and-out vile.
I think I can say, with all modesty, I’ve been writing long enough not to let my ego get involved when someone writes, applying the contumely of a single star as merit, “What was the point?” or another dissatisfied reader with the boldfaced caption anointing her contempt for my crime novel as “[o]ne of the worst,” stating, “If I could, I would have given this book zero stars.” I’m delighted I could create such an emotional ruckus in such readers. Caveat emptor, as they say. The vile responses have a perversely positive effect on me. I like how some state incisively what they don’t like; they help me, unlike the all-out condemners who simply spew venom around. As long as keyboards exist, we’ll always have the intellectual morons and cowards who trash-talk to make themselves feel good. These people are throwbacks to the cheering crowds at the Colosseum watching lions tear into staked-out victims.
There’s another class of individual that deserves mention: those toadies of the big publishing houses who run their own websites as proxies for the big houses. They shill for the big shots; they act as gatekeepers for small-press writers who, by dint of sheer necessity, must assist their publishers in marketing and promoting. One site owner told me my fourth novel was “self-published” and ineligible for listing on her site. The fact my manuscript was accepted, vetted, and edited by a small publisher using the CreateSpace platform made no difference. If the press isn’t noted on an “approved” list sanctified by the aegis of the almighty MWA, the Mystery Writers of America, it therefore doesn’t count. That person is within her rights to be an elitist, and I don’t mind that, but the snide rebuff makes the prestigious MWA sound like a coven of smug, New York-affiliated types who recognize one another at their annual soiree and pride themselves at remaining untainted from the indie rabble barging at the gates. But imagine YouTube informing their billions of worldwide users that the only music that counts henceforward is Justin Bieber and Beyoncé; no more uploads of, say, Electronic Dance Music with those pesky technical distinctions, all that nu disco, techno, acid, club, and house variation only Wikipedia understands. Instead, all forms of music compete for the listener’s attention. The Los Angeles stranglehold on who gets the contract has yielded to similar technological advances that make New York look stodgy in the arena of the print medium.
Every reader is aware the same crop of mystery or thriller writers/publishers dominate the Times bestseller lists month after month, year after year. Clive Cussler’s name popped up not too long ago, for the nth time, no doubt, and I fear that geriatric scribbling wonder will wind up under plexiglass, stuffed with acorns, as a team of ghost writers keep the sales going, the money rolling in.
I write to please myself, mainly, and express ideas I have about life, its brutality, and society’s preference for those hogs running to stick their snouts in the swill bucket first. Even wolves allow toothless members of the pack to feed. Sure, it’s entertainment, not art, and I do not beguile myself with delusions about that. This fall, a British publisher is bringing out my next novel. My writing didn’t get “better”; I was simply fortunate to find an editor that Myra and her ilk didn’t think existed in today’s publishing world.
As long as the pluses outweigh the minuses, I’ll remain on this seesaw of a hobby, although that’s not the right word.
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