Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oh dear

Despite a belly full of Easter chocolate, I've managed to post a book review on the lovely Bookersatz, blog, if you'd like to check it out.
That was the productive part of my day. The rest was spent gnashing my teeth after an infuriating conversation with a person-who-shall-remain-nameless (she doesn't read this blog, but I'm paranoid) who, after having a shufty at my First Chapter - which I'd let her read in good faith while at the same time knowing I was making a mistake - said to me, with a faux-friendly grin, "and I thought you were an intelligent woman!" It was all downhill from there, really.

Hating the fact that I still go red at my age, I asked her what she meant. The gist of her concern was that I was writing for silly, young women. Because I write book reviews and have a wide reading range, she'd assumed I'd be doing something more "grown-up." But I am, I said. What is your story about then? she asked. The usual stuff, I said. Love, friendship, family and, in this case, community spirit. Why then, she wondered, was I presenting it as a silly love story? Was I dumbing down?

I didn't know what to say, to be honest. I always think of clever put-downs later. I mumbled something about being more comfortable writing commercial fiction, but it sounded horribly like making excuses. She said she wasn't being rude (!), and there was "nothing wrong" with what I'd written, but she was just "surprised." That's all. It fair took the wind out of my sails, I can tell you.

I have written in a more literary style before, in short story form (she says, defensively) and I've got a psycho-thriller all plotted out and everyfink, but somehow I'm drawn to writing romantic-comedy-drama...oh ok, I suppose it's chicklit, but that doesn't mean I'm Stupid..
Does it??


Yvonne said...

What a b*tchy, cruel and useless thing to say. "Silly, young women?" What the hell does that even mean? I suppose we should all write like Virginia Woolf? And only watch Art House films? Just because your style isn't haughty doesn't mean it isn't insightful, entertaining and meaningful. I can't believe the neck of that woman!

(Sorry for being so ranty but Karen, I would have my head in the oven if someone said that to me. It just makes my blood boil...)

Lane said...

You are writing for a market. Writing for a specific market takes incisive intelligence. Was Maeve Binchy 'dumbing down' when she wrote all those tangled love stories set solidly in the heart of communities?
We don't always read to elevate our minds.
I mentioned the other day on jj's blog, that quote from the Wannabe book ...Easy reading is hard writing. Exactly. It takes intelligence - and buckets of it.
Anyway, I've read your chapter and right good it is too!

Faye said...

Having "wasted" the last two hours watching "Dancing with the Stars", I can understand how totally hacked you must be, Karen. There's a place for writing--or any other pursuit--that just makes us happy. Seeing those dancers on the floor looking lovely and romantic makes me smile. Reading a good story does the same. Everything doesn't have to be earth shaking important.

We have a saying in the south U.S. that if anyone starts an observation with "Bless her heart. . ." you know they're going in for the kill and loving every minute of it. Your critic has that technique down pat.

Sorry you had to start the week by getting your leg peed on by a friend???? As for the rest of us, we're looking forward to chapter 2.

SpiralSkies said...

Ugh. I can see how she thought she really wasn't being unkind. And you could take it as a compliment that she thought you would be writing some huge, weighty tome full of tears and literary allusion.

Unfortunately, it's just one of those facts of life that it's easier to focus on the negative than the positive. And, as Lane said, easy reading is hard writing.

We're not stupid and we want to read it.

Cal said...

I can empathise Karen. People look disappointed when I tell them I've written a supernatural chick lit novel too! I suppose they assume that just because I (mostly) read literary fiction that I'd write it too. Not so (apart from some short stories). Just tell your 'friend' that writing is about enjoyment and you enjoy writing commercial fiction. And anyway, literary fiction doesn't sell well ;o)

KAREN said...

yvonne - I know - it's surprising how rubbish comments like that make you feel! I keep telling myself she's just jealous...or something :o)

lane - I like that phrase, easy reading is hard work - very true. I feel better already :)

faye - More of a colleague than a friend I hasten to add. I agree, there IS room for different types of entertainment, for different moods, without one being better or worse than the other - wish I'd thought of saying that at the time!

spiralskies - I comfort myself with the thought that people make nasty digs to make themselves feel better in some way...or something like that.

cal - That's right - I read your post about your critique-group discussion :( Most annoying. It's funny because if someone told me they were writing a literary novel, I wouldn't dream of saying to them, 'oh, poor you! Why don't you try writing something that will sell?' Grrr.

Alis said...

LITERARY SNOB!! God I hate people who sneer at literature they don't like. What is her problem? I love Lane's quote about easy reading being hard writing. Some of the books which have inspired me most to live better, work harder and love more have been mass-market and aimed at women (and which would - in all probability - be branded chick-lit). Take no notice of her - when she's produced a book you admire, then she might (might!) be worth listening to. Until such time, trust your own judgements and those of practitioners you trust.

Lucy Diamond said...

Aaaaargggh. Blogger just ate my comment but I was trying to say, Ignore this snobby person. She's probably jealous of your talent. And we all have faith in you!

Maddie Moon said...

Double aargggh, blogger ate my comment too!!

Anyway, this makes me so cross, Karen. She obviously feels threatened by your talent and the only way she can make herself feel better is by making derogatory comments about your writing.

Chick lit, romance, silly love stories, call it what you will, is loved by millions. They can’t all be wrong.

Don’t show her any more of your stuff. Just think how satisfying it will be to hand over a copy of the finished published novel. (No free copies mind, she’ll have to pay.)

Yeah, yah boo sucks to her!

L-Plate Author said...

God damn that woman, Karen. I hate people like that so imagine my dilemma. 'So when's your book being published then? Oh I thought you already had an agent...'

People will always knock the wind out of your, and mine, sails so we'll just have to...not let them! You write what you feel comfortable with, hun, and stuff her and her stuck up attitude, it wouldn't do for us all to be the same.

And my book one was first likened to Maeve Binchy with a bit of lust so what does that say about me xx

Tom Foolery said...

Clarkey, OK, follow these simple instructions. Raise your right hand, palm facing you, Make a V sign with the two fingers next to your thumb. Place you thumb over the other two fingers and move your hand up and down slowly. Now does that make you feel better?
I'm with Lane on your first chapter, keep writing :) Tommox

Kirsty said...

Aaaargh! This made me seethe.
Don't feel you have to justify yourself to anyone.
Anyone who has tried to write a chick lit/women's fiction novel will know it's damn hard and requires just as much talent and dedication as writing something obscure and pretentious.
I actually just stamped my foot.

HelenMH said...

No no no! Write what you want to write! I've endured people being scathing about my work - but those people are usually just jealous! We've all read your first chapter and loved it! Take no notice - that's an order xxx

KAREN said...

alis - The trouble is, I end up wondering if she's just voicing what other people secretly think! I can only write what I feel comfortable with though, and you're right I should trust my own judgement and the people who's opinions I value :o)

lucy diamond - Blogger's being naughty today! Thank you for your comments, it really does help that most people are supportive :o)

maddie - I definitely won't be showing her anything else! She runs a book group and she's made it clear, before, that she wouldn't touch this sort of fiction with a barge-pole :o(

l-plate - That's the other bug-bear 'have you been published yet?' followed by a knowing smirk when you say no! I've been likened to Maeve Binchy as well (without the lust though - I don't do lust!!)

tommo - I wish I'd had the nerve to do that to her face - unless that was one of those complicated rapper-style greetings you were describing ;) I'd have got the sack though. Might have been worth it, on reflection :o)

kirsty - Thanks for the foot-stamp :o) I tried to maintain a dignified silence at the time, but I was mentally stamping my foot!

helenmh - I will dust myself down and Get On With It! They say success is the best revenge :o)

THANK YOU all for your supportive comments, they really do make a huge difference :o) It's odd, because you try not to let these things get to you, but I actually found myself feeling ashamed, as though I was letting myself down or something. Bloomin' crazy.

Onwards and upwards is the only way, methinks...

liz fenwick said...

The book world is large and includes all sorts... I had the same comment thrown at me by someone I really respected. She wanted something deep, overwhelmingly and meanful from my book. She was disappointed because that was what she was looking for because of what she saw as my personality. She liked the book but was disappointed. I explained that I want to write fiction that lifts - life sucks too much of the time. I don't often want to read things that bring me down - life does that well enough. Also if the day comes when I am publishe want to earn some money from it(hah) and commerical women's fiction sells - literary with a few exceptions does not however they get all the press and the book clubs.

The wonderful Katie Fforde said that she writes Mars Bars and sometimes (as a reader) only a Mars Bar will do......I think she is so right. I read widely and each book fills a different roll to meet a different emotional need.

I aim to write fruit and nut - so I am firmly in the catagory of commerical women's fiction and proud to be there. Give me a happy ending any day :-)

KAREN said...

liz - I'm sorry you've had a similar comment. It's disappointing isn't it?
I love the idea of writing chocolate - who wouldn't feel better after a big chunk of Cadbury's?! That's my feeling too.
I shall hold on to that thought :o)

Debs said...

I think you should take absolutely no notice of her and do what Tom Foolery suggests.

I'm going to take the same advice but use it for the person I blogged about today. There are far too many people out there trying to pull others down and I just think they they are miserable with their lot and want everyone else to be too.

End of rant.

KAREN said...

debs - Very good point. In my case, I also wondered today if it's because 'chicklit' is perceived as being easy to write, therefore it's considered a cop-out?

Leigh said...

The nicest thing about criticism is that you can take it if you like it, and dump it if you don't.

I know it's hard, especially when people are unkind/ignorant, but you know what you're doing. Your writing is good. Keep faith in yourself and only listen to those people who are on your side.

Ignore the rest of 'em. (Except perhaps for a few choice hand signals as described by TF.)

Kirsty said...

Karen, I just read your first chapter, it's bloody good. Interesting, instantly likeable characters and perfectly paced :)

Writing chocolate is an excellent analogy. I'm going to write maltesers - light and totally addictive!

Debs said...

I think that the only people who believe chicklit is easy to write are the people who've never tried to write it.

I love reading it and have spent many escapist hours happily reading a Mars bar book (unfortunately, usually accompanied by the actual Mars Bar too).

KAREN said...

leigh - You're right - if it's not constructive criticism, it's probably best ignored :o)

kirsty - I'm really glad you liked it, thank you for that :)
I like the sound of your Malteser writing!

debs - I used to read Mills & Swoon many years ago, and remember thinking once, 'I could write one of these.' Well I tried and I couldn't. It was nowhere near as easy as I'd presumed. A good lesson, I've never forgotten!

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I am furious on your behalf! Jealous madame who will probably amount to nothing much in life except to be remembered as a bitch. Go on, make her a nasty character in a short story who gets her cumuppance in the end!

KAREN said...

mob - ooh, I never thought of making her a nasty character...do you know I might just do that. Revenge shall be mine - Mwah ha ha ha!

wordtryst said...

A few years ago, I made the mistake of giving a certain young male 'friend' of mine an excerpt from my romance novel to read. He said something along the same lines as your friend's comment, something dismissive, and that he'd expected 'more' from me.

I was deflated. Years later my agent, who's sold many serious books, was very complimentary about my writing, and when I expressed concerns that romance wasn't considered real writing, she assured me that I should be proud of what I'd done, and that it was hard to write an entertaining, interesting novel, one that people will actually want to read, unlike the boring, show-offy offerings of some 'serious' writers that people thing they 'should' read.

I prefer to listen to my agent, rather than my 'friend'. Every type of writing that's geared to entertaining women is trivialized and devalued - even by some women.

Be proud of your work. I think it was Erica Jong who said that when she's alone and awake in a hotel room in the middle of the night it's not the hundreds of wonderful letters from fans that she remembers, but the one hateful letter that tore her and her work to pieces. We have to unite against the haters!

Anonymous said...


February New Year's Resolution (better late than never)

Well, Christmas flew by in a flash - and lovely it was too - and January got off to a busy start as I had a deadline for the second book ...