Thursday, December 10, 2009

Embracing Inappropriate, Violent & Blasphemous: Three Writers Make Negative Reviews a Fashion Statement...

As I prepare for the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference I thought it was about time I followed-up with three of my favorite Annual Summer Conference attendees, Emily Wing Smith, Brodi Ashton and Bree Despain, to talk about their outfits.

I spotted Emily, Brodi and Bree at the LA conference this past August wearing these t-shirts:

Word shirt ring leader Emily Wing Smith told me the terms emblazoned on their chests—"blasphemous," "violent" and "inappropriate"—were all stinging comments they heard about their own novels.

Below the three talk about those negative critiques, how they were impacted, and how they forged ahead through fashion.

Emily Wing Smith

When I wrote my YA novel THE WAY HE LIVED, I expected some backlash. After all, the book deals—however briefly—with some serious themes: suicide, homosexuality, mental illness. But I wasn’t prepared for the words of an anonymous commenter who left a review on a book retailer’s website, claiming she “tried to overlook the references to homosexuality and other inappropriate matters” but ultimately couldn’t get past it.

Okay, so I don’t happen to believe that homosexuality is an inappropriate matter. I don’t think anyone should believe that. But what really baffled me? Being offended by even a reference to something she deemed inappropriate. I believe that murder is inappropriate, but I’m not offended when someone refers to it. Maybe that makes me inappropriate—if so, then my “Inappropriate” t-shirt is actually appropriate!

Brodi Ashton

My YA book ECHO features a teenage girl who becomes an alien hunter, so I wasn’t surprised when readers called it “too violent.” The problem came when I tried to change every scene that had offended someone. I quickly learned two things: 1) No two people were offended by the same scene; 2) If I removed every scene that had one detractor, there’d be no book left.

Not everyone is going to like my book. Someone, somewhere, is going to think a story about a teenage girl who can kill an alien with a fork will be too violent. But if I let myself think that too, I never would’ve typed “The End” and found an agent who thinks my book is just violent enough.

My “Violent” t-shirt was a smart move because it got me to the front of one of the lines at the SCBWI conference. The lady said I could cut because she didn’t want to mess with me.

Bree Despain

I think for many authors, one of the hardest things to deal with is occasionally hearing negative feedback about our book. It doesn’t seem to matter how much praise, or how many awesome reviews we receive, when somebody finds something not to like about our books, or is offended by something we wrote, we can let that negative energy eat away at us—sometimes even to the point where we find ourselves unable to write.

Around the same time that Emily’s book received a particularly upsetting review because of some supposed inappropriate references, I was dealing with getting over something someone else had said about my book THE DARK DIVINE. A writer friend had read the manuscript and told me that she thought my book was “blasphemous” because I talked about faith and mythological paranormal creatures in the same story. She also worried that people would think it was blasphemous to use a teenage girl as a metaphor for grace and redemption. I didn’t agree with my friend, but I found myself wondering if I needed to rewrite my entire book in a way that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. (A completely impossible feat, I soon discovered.)

Luckily, Emily, Brodi, and I decided that instead of letting the negative things people said about our books cripple our writing; we would just put our bad reviews on t-shirts and “own” them. Our bad review t-shirts have been a lot of fun to wear. People love to stop us to talk about our shirts, which always leads to discussions about our books—and Sherman Alexie even remembered our names because of them!


J.A. Redmerski said...

Kudos, ladies! I love writers that aren't afraid to write what the hell THEY WANT. Violent. Inappropriate. Blasphemous. That makes me want to buy the books.

Brodi Ashton said...

Thanks for the post! It was so good to meet you in person in L.A.

Ey Wade said...

Just goes to show you have to write the book that's in you, because there is always an appreciative reader somewhere out there.

SCBWI said...

Brodi, thank YOU for you comments for my blog AND for not letting critics get you down. I'm glad you found an agent who thinks your book is "just violent enough." Hurray!

Valerie Geary said...

I loved this post!!! LOVED IT! Inspiring and empowering for writers everywhere!

Olivia Carter said...

Such a great way to deal with criticism! Way to make a negative, a positive!

Christina Lee said...

LOVE it -truly inspirational!! You just fueled my fire, ladies!

Larissa said...

Excellent post! Thanks for sharing those great stories!

Cuppa Jolie said...

How did I miss those shirts and lovely ladies in LA? I love it! Thanks for this post, Alice.

Cassandra Jade said...

It is great to see how they have responded to these criticisms. Thanks for sharing this post.

Cranberryfries said...

What a fabulous interview with some wonderful ladies. They all make a great point. Do the story you love and own it. I love that!

Anonymous said...

An encouraging post! Inappropriate/violent/blasphemous books are the good ones.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Wonderful stories! I love the idea of "owning" your criticisms on the T-shirts.

lisha cauthen said...

I hope someday to join your club. I think my t-shirt will say, "Depraved".

Kara Parlin said...

It's comforting to see that writers of all different levels struggle with similar issues. When I began working on my first story, I listened to every critique, and changed the story with every suggestion.

I soon realized that the story wasn't mine anymore. It wasn't the story I wanted to tell. Then after receiving wildly different feedback from yet another respected source, I realized that I should be selective.

Bethany Wiggins said...

Wow. I just finished reading this. Beautiful book. And if you're going to be a writer accessible to the public, you will never please everybody all the time. So grow a thick skin and revel in your success. Because you earned it, Bree.

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Kim Harrington said...

Chiming in late to say I love this post so much!

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