Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Big Deals & Critics

This is one rare and special experience in my writing career:

As this is being written, a major publisher in a distant country is negotiating with a certain (*cough*) person to translate and publish his debut novel there.

I can't say more at this point... perhaps the deal will close, perhaps not. But I'm very excited.

Meanwhile, critics in my home country are mostly positive to my debut novel. A few reviews are VERY negative. (If you can read Swedish, the reviews can be found here and here.)

I am listening to the criticism, and it does have some minor influence on the sequel I'm writing now... (Yes, yes, I WILL pick up the loose plot ends... yes, yes, I WILL give a bit more space to characterization!)

However... any writer must learn this lesson, and painfully so: You can't please everybody. You never will.

Critics will always find something to nitpick about (Lousy rotten karmic retribution, muttered he, quoting Homer Simpson). Even when you're successful. Especially when you're successful.

I wouldn't say negative criticism is driven only by envy (it's not), but I have a theory about where it comes from...
1. The critical reader approaches a work of fiction with very specific personal needs.

2. The critic hopes that the reading experience will satisfy these needs.

3. Said needs are perhaps clothed in lofty language about "style" and "theme" and "principles" (yadda yadda), but those are only so much window-dressing. The critic's needs are at their core emotional, exactly in the way that the writer's emotional needs pushes the writer to write.

4. The critic's needs may vary, but often circle around

4 A) Loneliness.
EXAMPLE: "I want friends and love and connect with other people. I will experience these things vicariously, by identifying with the characters in this book. I don't think of myself as a critic, but as a reader."

4 B) Lack of self-esteem.
EXAMPLE: "Nobody listens to me! I can't write! I can't get published! I'll make'em listen. I'll show the world I'm good enough to be a writer."

4 C) Narcissism.
EXAMPLE: "All books should reflect my perfection. Any book that I fail to identify with is not a part of me, and therefore not perfect, and therefore beneath all respect."

4 D) Idealism.
EXAMPLE: "I follow the Sacred Principles of Art, and will inspect this book to make sure it follows slavishly my Sacred Principles."

5. If the critic fails to gain the anticipated (and perhaps fleeting) satisfaction, he/she will feel cheated, even resentful.

In some cases, the critic's reaction closely resembles that of a rejected lover ("How could she do this to me, that heartless strumpet!")

Please note that I'm not saying this is wrong. I'm only trying to understand critics as human beings (instead of just seeing them as heartless monsters, which is dishonest but more fun).

Loneliness (See point 4 B) is just as much a driving force for the average writer as for the average reader. We are human beings. We want to connect. That is why writing exists in the first place.

So, dear critic, if you fail to gain satisfaction from my fiction, please don't hate me. I'll try harder next time.
And if you do not listen... then to hell with you!*

(*Conan the Barbarian, 1982)


Anonymous said...

"These critics are like eunuchs: They know what to do but they can't do it."
- French Chef Paul Bocuse

A.R.Yngve said...

"Rock critics are failed musicians."
-Bob Dylan

Joe Eszterhas mentions in his autbiography HOLLYWOOD ANIMAL that most journalists who write for movie magazines are "wannabes": they want to be in movies, but lack something (namely, balls).

He recounts a hilarious anecdote about when a movie-mag journalist was supposed to write an article about an upcoming film that Eszterhas wrote....

Before the article went to print, the journalist tried to push his OWN movie script to Eszterhas -- and not-so-subtly hinted he'd write a negative article, unless Joe read his script and helped him with it!

Joe did the smart thing: he lied. The journalist wrote a glowing piece in the magazine, and Joe immediately shunned him (and his script) afterward.

As a writer, you must be prepared to encounter a few spineless, lying creeps. They are called "journalists."