For my third novel, Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears — which is being released next week — the thought process was a three-step one that went something like this.
1. “Hmmmmm. Booklist Review.”
2. “Sweet! Someone reviewed the thing!”
3. “Oh shit. Someone reviewed the thing.”
And then my finger just hung there over the phone. Do I open it? I’m at work. What if it’s bad? What if it shatters my fragile writer’s ego? Equally bad, what if it sends me into a panic the entire three weeks leading up to release?
That last one is a trick question. Because I always spend the final weeks leading up to release — and the couple weeks afterward — in a complete panic. Why? Because you’re basically taking 300 pages of you, tossing it out in the public square and saying, “How you like them apples?”
And people might not like your apples. They may hate them, even.
They may not like all the cursing. They may not like the plot. They may not like your writing style. They may not like your main character who totally isn’t based on you, no really. They may just pick up some vibe from the first five pages and decide you’re a raging asshole.
They may even get mad at you!
I can’t speak for other writers, but I will. I think one thing that worries us most is that certain friends and family members will assume a character or storyline is based on them. And you always worry about the less flattering things. A good book needs good antagonists. And a good Southern book needs good weirdos and slightly-off and/or slightly maimed characters. And scandalous and/or heartbreaking plot points. So where do you get off Mr. Writerman sticking me in your book. Oh, I know it’s me. I just know it. The guy with one eye and a thing for underage women. How could you write about me like that?
What makes this potentially more difficult is if, indeed, you DID base this character on someone.
Granted, none of this has ever happened to me. No one’s come up and accused me of basing a character on anyone other than myself. Because that’s the truth. Whether it be a rogue Catholic priest, a bacon and egg dealer or a 50-year-old woman living in New York, the characters are largely based on me.
And other people.
But not you. I swear it isn’t based on you. Unless you like the character, then it’s totally based on you because you are an inspiration to me in all that I do.
Now some folks might say, “Ken, why do you care what they think? You should be proud with your accomplishment. Just enjoy it.”
Of course I care what people think. Every writer does. Further, let me add this. Every writer should care what people think. Why else are you putting it out there? To make a one-way statement about your craft and the rest of the world can go to hell?
I write for a number of reasons — I mean besides satisfying my ego and making everything about me. One of them is to bring joy or delight or some form of emotion to people. To tell a story that they might like, even if it makes them cry.
But yes, I write for other people. And that’s a good thing. If you’re the sort of writer who writes only for yourself, regardless of what an audience might think, do the world a favor and keep it in that Hello Kitty diary with the lock on it — or on LiveJournal. (And if you are writing on LiveJournal, don’t kid yourself. You’re writing for other people — just the kind who can usually be counted on to tell you how awesome you are.)
Again, writing for other people means other people can say things about you. And it actually pains me, all those one-star reviews on Amazon from people who are obviously offended by my language or my portrayal of a priest. I want to laugh it off, and I do laugh it off usually. But a small part of me thinks, “Well, I made that person feel angry. And not in a good way. So they have a right to come into a public forum and declare my idiocy to the world.”
But you move on — mostly by reading all the positive reviews and telling yourself those are just as valid as that one-star review from the guy who has only reviewed power tools on Amazon but hated your book so much he just had to vent. Yup. You move on by reading the positive reviews. That and drinking.
So what did Booklist say about Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears? This.
But when Katie-Lee’s sister, Karen-Anne, dies after being trampled by a run-away rhinoceros, Katie-Lee finds herself headed back to the hollers. Memories lurk there, some happy, some so sorrowful Katie-Lee hasn’t let herself dwell on them since she got on board a Greyhound headed for the Big Apple. Her homecoming induces Katie-Lee to once again savor the flavors of her own history, the bitter slick of grief and the saccharine joy of unconditional love. Wheaton’s familiarity with both Brooklyn and Louisiana make for an absorbing and delightful read.
Hey, that’s pretty good!
But if you’re a writer, you probably already understand what little tiny phrase jumps out of that positive review. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go dwell on the fact that the reviewer used the phrase “saccharine joy.” Just what the hell did she mean by that?!?
By the way, if you’re on Goodreads, you can enter to win a free copy of Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears.