In this time of looking back and counting blessings, I find myself grateful beyond measure for more good fortune than I deserve. Then I received a gift of unparalleled treasure - my first one-star review.
Just the number of my years and the reasonable health and vitality I enjoy are enough to humble me, as I think of so many graced with neither. Against all advice, my beloved wife, Pat, has renewed my contract for our twenty-seventh year, making me happier than any husband should be. Our son is healthy, happy, in love and building his career. We have a wonderful home livened by two rambunctious doggos, shepherd Lobo and husky Aura. Our cupboard is full of vittles, the bar cabinet stocked with wine, and the hearth blazes with a crackling fire as the morning frosts ice the ground outside.
Much more I cannot ask.
But my cup overflows — I am privileged to write. At a recent meeting of the writer’s group I attend, led by Alan Rose, he said it flatly: “Isn’t it an amazing gift and privilege that we get to do this?” Yes, it is, Alan, and I light incense to Thoth, the Egyptian god who invented writing, every day I get to sit and scribble.
Beyond that, the boon of attracting readers is the icing on the proverbial cake, and having people praise my work in person or in reviews heats my cheeks with the embarrassment of riches.
This year, however, I received a benison I didn’t know I wanted and now would not part with for a Nobel Prize.
My very first one-star review.
I am not being sarcastic or satirical when I say I was overjoyed to see this posted on the Amazon page for Where You Will Die. My first novel garnered my first really, truly disparaging review, and it is a gem.
Indulge me for a moment as I dissect and analyze why this seemingly awful review filled me with such glee:
Verified Purchase – this person is not known to me, not a relative or friend, but they bought the book! That is, in itself, a minor miracle. Based only on the cover, some promotional copy, a complimentary review or two and a sneak-peek at the opening pages, this person laid out cold, hard cash for my book. Right there, I can die a happy man.
“The writing is not so bad, without the usual dozen errors per page that we see these days.” All my work and all the help I received from friends, family, editors, designers, and others all the way back to my sixth grade English teacher, resulted in a book that deserves no criticism for grammar or spelling, sentence construction or prose coherence, plot device or narrative style. Shout out to everyone, including you, Mrs. Brown of Griswold Elementary!
“But the story is a blasphemous sacrilegious view mocking Christianity in favor of nonsense.” This sentence is proof positive that the reviewer actually read the book! All the way to the end, no less. No one could have come to that judgement of the story without finishing it. I did not intend to mock Christianity nor to peddle nonsense (more on this later), but that is what the reader got from the story after reading it through. Hating it or loving it, the reader turned the pages from first to last. Margaret Atwood says an author’s one job is to keep the reader’s attention. Mission Accomplished, Ms. Atwood.
“NOT Recommended. I will read no more from this author.” Thank you, dear reader/reviewer. You could not give me better, more juicy publicity if you had banned it from your county library.
Now, about the reviewer’s take on the plot and theme. Here lies the shiny pearl hidden away beneath the crusty shell and slimy membrane of this or any criticism. A negative review gives me the best reminder of the truth behind what it means to write for readers:
The story I write is there to be read. The story you read is the one in your head.
Even the most positive, glowing review for my book tells me only that the reader liked the story they translated from the page through the filter of their own experience, inclination and predisposition. A negative review tells me only that the reader did not like the same story, read from the same pages, based on their own unique filters.
I do well to remember this when tempted to inflate my self-image based on complimentary reviews or sales or any other external measure: Whether a reader loves or hates my work, they are not reviewing the story I wrote. They are reviewing the story they read. Praise should not stroke my ego. Censure should not strike it.
Speaking of Christianity, I’m told that a first-century itinerant rabbi said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Those I call enemy - or who declare themselves my enemy - are friends in disguise, helping me to hone my work, my heart, and my soul.
Please buy my "terrible" book!
My first novel, Where You Will Die, is available now exclusively on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.
"This philosophical mystery will captivate readers thanks to a winning cast and setting."- Kirkus Reviews
"Quirky, engaging whodunit." - Rick George, author of Sinister Refuge
"The story is beautifully written and is compelling and gratifying." - Alma Boucher for Readers' Favorite