Monday, June 21, 2010

The Perils of Loving a Writer (guest blog #1)

Greetings, friends of Carrie! Let me first introduce myself. My name is Sarah and I met Carrie during a mommy play-date. Not a play-date between our children, but one between our mothers back in nineteen-seventy-something. [I have photos of Sarah at my 2nd birthday party in 1975. -ed.]

We had a lemonade stand together. We played with Barbie dolls together. [Technically, I believe they were Sindy dolls that I got for doing a commercial for the toy, plus Jem and the Holograms dolls. Because Jem is truly outrageous. -ed.] I met Carrie's husband before he grew his first beard, and she met mine while he still had inappropriately long hair. (Yes, we both married teenage sweethearts. Everybody say aww.) Carrie is the closest thing in my life to a sister. [The first time I met Sarah's husband, he watched us for a while, then said, "Oh, God, there's two of you." -ed.]

So what I’m saying is, I was here first. But I’ll share because Carrie is too awesome to not share. [Aww. -ed.] Besides, you make me feel like an incredibly hip early adopter.

I’m not a writer myself, but my husband is soon-to-be-famous author Felix Gilman so I’m going to talk about his first book. He’d talk about being a writer back when he was 20, but by 30 that seemed to be over. Then, with a three month gap between jobs he announced, almost sheepishly, that he was going to write a novel rather than find temporary employment. He’d apparently been planning for some time and had a plot, characters, and a genre all mapped out. I was elated to find that his lifelong dream had not fallen by the wayside of adulthood as they so often do.

And then as sequestered a section of the desk for his reference books, the fear set in. Was that [book] by [author]? And the sequel? I hate those books. They go on and on with prose like dense jungle undergrowth and nothing resembling plot or character development. Of course, my husband feels differently about them…

“Oh lord,” I thought, “I’m going to hate his book.”

I had lobbied unsuccessfully for the right to read early drafts, but as time passed I began to be relieved. This gave me time to plan my faux-compliments and the appropriate adoring gestures to go with them.

Fortunately my plans were unnecessary; I loved his novel. I would actually struggle to stay awake just to keep reading. But I wonder sometimes what I would have happened if I’d felt differently.

I’ve noticed Carrie usually ends with a question of some kind and so following her example I offer this chance to get it off your chest – although you might not want to name names. Have you ever hated a book written by a loved one? What did you say when they asked for your opinion? Or, since many of you are on the other side, did anyone close to you hate your work... and how did you manage to forgive them for their bizarre lack of taste?

You can find Sarah's husband Felix at his blog, and I highly recommend that you check out his author bio. And then hit refresh. And then hit refresh again. I think he has eight different bios on there, and they're all HILARIOUS. ALSO! Wednesday of next week Felix himself will be guest blogging for us, complete with a TWO-BOOK GIVEAWAY! So cool. Come on back now, y'hear?


  1. OMG, Felix got a blurb from Ursula Le Guin. OK, I'm in.

  2. The first time I met Sarah's husband, he watched us for a while, then said, "Oh, God, there's two of you."

    If you don't use that in a novel, I will. And really, great intro to yourself and hubbie.

    As far as books by friends go, if it's too late to change anything, I compliment them on a part I liked. If they were to then ask about the other parts, I'd tell them the truth, but so far no one has.

  3. Situations like that are ridiculously awkward. Constructive criticism is the key. I never tell anyone I hated their story; instead, I try to point out what they could have done better.

  4. Ah, the classic open with a compliment strategy... You are kind people and if I ever write a book I'm coming here for comments.

    Gary - there was much rejoicing in our house when that quote was received.

    As for this little nugget: "Oh, God, there's two of you."
    I remember that! I debated including including it in my intro but thought it might only make sense if you saw us doing the little boogie dance. People, start pestering Carrie now to put up video of the little boogie dance!

  5. Old friends rock.

    I *have* disliked things written by close friends, and thankfully I've had the relationship with all of them that I could say so.

    Generally, if there are good things (and there always have been for me, thank goodness), I'll lead with that. And ahead of time, I always ask what they want to know. Do they want a critique? An impression? A line-by-line edit? Am I the audience, or am I trying to put myself in the shoes of a different audience? This all helps, because when there are things I need to criticize, I can do it with respect and perspective, and I've never had it be a problem.

    As far as I'm concerned, I want truth. I might not always agree with someone's opinion, but I do want to know what you think, even if you're my best friend. Especially if you're my best friend. Don't be nice to spare my feelings. When I give something for critique, I expect to tuck my feelings in a box and lock the box and sit on it until the critique is done. I think most serious writers feel the same way.

    Great post, Sarah! Maybe we'll meet one day...

  6. Love this post, Sarah! I have not yet read anything by my friends that I actively disliked, but I'd like to think that I would be able to be honest with them. My parents were always delightfully honest with me about my artistic endeavors, and I have much more respect for those who offer me an honest opinion than those who go no further than vague compliments (which was generally the sort of feedback I got from everyone else). My personal opinion is that I'd rather get an honest reaction from a friend, so that I can then either make necessary revisions, or agree to disagree with his/her opinions.

  7. This is great. I recently reconnected with a friend and my hubby had same reaction! There's two of you? He's now waiting for us to conqueor the world lol.

    He is also a good editor when he can get over his bigotry. Sci-fi has to come up to Robert Heinlin's scientific madness/greatness and he has no ear for romance. However, I got him reading romance and now, instead of pshawing my work he says I'm as good as or better than stuff he read. I'm not saying the authors here because that is not the point (they are well known, and one in particular has recently been under attack). Point is he was willing to read outside his comfort zone to give me a better idea of my quality.

    Constructive Criticism, which in my opinion should always include a compliment to start is the way to go whether you like it or not.

    A simple I love it or I hate it doesn't help anyone. It's the whys that are important.

  8. Gary - I know, I really couldn't believe it when my editor told me we'd got the Ursula LeGuin blurb. Frankly I thought it was such a longshot it was hardly worth asking her.

    I've never disliked anything a friend has written. The problem I have is that once I've met someone often enough to know them reasonably well - to know what their actual physical voice sounds like, what their mannerisms are like - I find it very hard to read their fiction. (Non-fiction's not a problem). I'm conscious of their actual voice in a very distracting sort of a way. I'm actually rather reluctant these days to meet writers I like, even when I'm sure they would be very pleasant people in person. I would be a terrible editor.

    I have a similar problem with actors. It's probably some kind of Brain Thing.

  9. Great post Sarah. And now I am introduced to a new author! (Plus you basically vouched for Carrie, which is a huge plus since she can be super shady sometimes.)

    (Not really.)

    (Well sometimes.)

    I did read a friend's novel long ago, and it was definitely horrid. And I felt terrible. But at least I read it through, and said what I liked about it.

  10. Sierra - But did you find a nice way to say what you hated about the novel? Because surely for a new author that's important information.

    Carrie is totally shady sometimes. But don't worry, I'm on it.

  11. I'm writing a parody romance and my mother was dying to read it/ help me proof. I sent her the first 100 pages. Now keep in mind, it's not only a racy romance (which she does not read), but a parody one, so it's the romanciest romance that ever f'ing romanced. It's Mel Brooks meets Julia Quinn. On crack.

    And I heard back... nothing. And more nothing. Are more nothing. She changed the subject whenever it came up. She INSISTS she LOVES it, but I have not sent her the next hundred pages - and she has not asked. ;)

  12. I'll never forget the time my dad found a hard copy of a novel I had written and read it without permission. I was 8 at the time and needless to say, the 256 wandering pages failed to make him amazed. When I found out he had read it, I asked him what he thought, and he just nodded his head in silence, as if to avoid saying anything bad about it. I was crushed because my dad can usually find something good to say about anything, especially when created by his only daughter. I thought I could never be a writer.

    But a few days later, I decided to look at things differently: He didn't say anything bad about it because he wanted me to keep writing. I took that as encouragement, trashed the novel I had written and went on to write something else with glee.

    After, of course, I promised my dad I wouldn't waste any more ink and paper by printing out, double-spaced, another one of my "novels."