An Honest(y) Dilemma

Honesty is the best policy. Be true to yourself. Different strokes for different folks. The First Amendment gives us the right to say what we want.

As I write this entry into my blog, I honestly have a stomach ache because I’ve offended a fellow writer. (Guess I’ll never make it as a NYT book critic if I’m this much of a wimp.) I am a 48-year old mother of four, and a Libra (for whatever that’s worth). I’ve been called a “pleaser,” and I’m still not sure if that’s good or bad. The LAST thing I want to do is offend a person. That being said, I have my personal likes and opinions, as we all do. I also have a quick tongue and often regret what comes out of my mouth before I’ve considered how it will be heard. That’s one reason I’m a writer ~ I can edit and rewrite my words before I show them to people.

One of the supreme benefits of our world, at least and foremost in the United States, is that we are exposed to so much because of differing interests. I don’t go see horror movies, but they make millions of dollars off people who do. I don’t read Sci-Fi books nor books about vampires (although I did read the Twilight series to see what all the rage was about ~ and I read all four books because Stephenie Meyer has a knack for plot and making readers (me) sympathize with Bella). I prefer crime dramas on TV to sitcoms like “The Office”. I prefer mysteries and literature to Chick-Lit. But that’s my prerogative; that’s what our world is about.

However, social media is ubiquitous, and the impact and transparency of social media is game-changing.

My point is, I recently read Sara J. Henry’s debut novel, Learning To Swim. In my review on Goodreads, I called her book “a page-turner”, a “strong debut novel”, and said that she “did an excellent job at keeping the reader guessing “Whodunit?”, and I finished with “I thoroughly enjoyed the story”. However, I also said that “I found her fundamentals (i.e. syntax and vocabulary) to be rather elementary”. Unfortunately, it was this comment that apparently stuck out in Ms. Henry’s mind. I hereby and whole-heartedly apologize for offending Ms. Henry.

I am a writer, not yet “an author”. I have not yet had my fiction work published. I do not hold an MFA in English or Literature. Some people would say that I shouldn’t be able to critique work in a public forum without those credentials. Some would say that if I do, my critique should be dismissed. However, I am a voracious reader, and I have opinions. I have written two and a half novels (the first I shelved because I realized it was naive at best). The second I have submitted to agents, and gotten some nibbles but no representation yet, so I have rewritten and revised upon the feedback I’ve gotten from agents. My mother loved it (yeah, I know, but she does have a Ph.D. in Higher Education), another Ph.D professor of English at Ole Miss, Dr. Colby Kullman, had very high praise for it including “suspenseful”, the “characters come alive”, and it “by far surpasses any of their MFA’s first novels” ~ enough praise to keep me going through multiple agent rejections. Ironically, my own father “did not like it.” He told me that in person. He said it was “too raw” for his taste. (Perhaps I should have advised him that my bisexual, drug-using, unfaithful female character was in no way autobiographical before I gave it to him.) But enough about me.

In the world of the Internet, Twitter, Goodreads, etc., when a person puts their opinion online, it’s very likely that someone will either disagree or be offended. It happens everyday. I am sure that when my work (either my current book or a future one) is published, it and/or I will be criticized. I am under no illusion that everyone will like it in part or in whole. But that is “a supreme benefit” of living in America. I have to be willing to risk being hurt if I put my work out there.

Before writing full-time, I was an art dealer. I saw a lot of beautiful work, and a lot of ugly work. I, of course, only represented work that I thought was great art. Again, I have my opinion on what is “great art.” I was never a fan of Robert Rauschenberg, though he’s considered one of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century. I also didn’t like A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan for the same reason I don’t like Rauschenberg: I thought their “ground-breaking originality” was gimmicky. Rauschenberg famously added “found objects” in his work (in the mid-50s put a taxidermied chicken in/on one work). Egan did an entire chapter in Power Point. I understand the “Power of the New”, but I don’t have to love gimmicks. Meanwhile, Egan and Rauschenberg (the latter posthumously) have laughed all the way to the bank, as they say.

As for Ms. Henry, I honestly enjoyed her novel, and look forward to the sequel. It’s just that when I compare her debut novel to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (the other two books I am currently reading), I find her fundamentals to be “elementary”. “Straightforward” or “undemanding” might have better choices. Perhaps it is wildly unfair to compare a debut novelist to some of the great writers on their masterworks. “Nothing is good or bad except by comparison.” I should be so lucky as to have a debut novel out there for people to critique.

Again, Ms. Henry, my apologies. I hope that everyone who reads this will buy your book and you will make lots of money off the controversy!

The flip side of the coin, one I will try to remember for the future: “The less said is the best said.”

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