Every writer lives for reviews. For the fledgling writer, anxious to establish herself in the literary world, a good review is a small step forward in her career pathway. Reviews are the professional writer’s bread and butter…literally. The more reviews a writer receives on Amazon, for example, the higher the book climbs in Amazon’s ratings, resulting in more exposure, resulting in more sales, etc. etc. But even the indie author who writes and publishes for the pure pleasure of seeing his written word in print is thrilled with a positive review from an objective reader. The moment the book is released, the author awaits that first review anxiously, and if it is five-star, what a thrill! I think back to the Academy Awards when Sally Fields exclaimed in giddy surprise, “You like me! You really like me!” A good reviewer authenticates a writer. His words are a virtual pat on the back. His review says, “You are an artist, and your art has moved me in a particular way. You are good at what you do, and I would like to take the time to share my thoughts so that others may have the pleasure of reading your lovely prose.”
On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum for the writer is the really bad review. After my book’s release, for months I rode along on the euphoric wave of excellent reviews, some by people I knew who I suspected might have overinflated my star value, but many by strangers. They convinced me my writing was worthy. But then, in just one day, not long after a promotional freebie day that had resulted in multiple downloads, I was horrified to spot two scathing one-star reviews. Neither of them attacked my writing style itself; in fact, one of them actually complimented my style. Both readers, however, were disturbed by my story. Since these were my first bad reviews, of course I overreacted and looked to see if the reviewers had reviewed other books, finding that the first one took a dim view of most of the books she read, so I didn’t take her assessment seriously. But I read the other one, penned by a woman named Arlene, several times:
“This book brought out a side of me I have seldom encountered - the desire to slap someone so hard that the brain begins to work or to leave the body. For what I believed to be an educated and stable, logical thinking well balanced mother I got to the point of strangulation. There is just so much ‘mother Theresa’ in all of us to be empathetic but for heaven’s sake ....... how can you allow ONE person to disrupt and destroy the lives of so many…”
True, her feedback was ridiculously exaggerated, but she had a valid point. (Perhaps I should have been flattered that my words had evoked such a visceral reaction!) I thought I had made a point in the book that I KNEW my enabling had been counterproductive. I realized that instead of supporting my daughter, my actions and inactions had not only assisted her in remaining a child, but had affected (destroyed? – ouch!) the lives of our entire family. Yet, I had also discovered as I wrote, and even more so after the book came out, when I talked about it in book clubs and interviews, that I had only begun to explore that facet of my character. I thought I had a handle of my enabling, but I have since begun to believe that my inability to say no - my conviction that I must keep everybody happy - is so deeply ingrained in who I am, that I will never change, no matter how many therapy sessions, self-help books, meditations, or journal entries. And many things have happened in my life since the book was released that have confirmed my conviction.
So, I’ve thought a lot about why. And I believe I touched on many factors in the book – my mother’s enabling, my father’s alcoholism, my depression and anxiety, my lack of experience in family dynamics, my need to control - that contributed to who I became. But in my mind I’ve also begun to explore the bigger picture – my place in the world as a child in the 50’s, a woman coming of age in the 60’s, and a young career woman, wife, and mother in the 70’s. How did the way society perceived me as a woman play a part in who I became? What messages did my parents and grandparents send me about my role as a female? Or the world around me? And what affect did the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, especially the wave of substance use popularity and addiction issues, have on the way I raised my children and grandchildren?
Thus, I have begun writing another book. It will be a sequel…the cheesy newsletters will pick up where the first book left off. Believe me, enough drama has transpired in my family since then to fill another book, and the end is nowhere in sight! And, as in my first book, I will include explorations from my past life that relate to the life-changing events, influential people, and wide-ranging emotions, dare I say chaos, of my family’s REAL life today - what the cheesy family newsletters so cleverly obscure.
It’ll take a while. There are lots of time-consuming activities coming up, including a possible move from a home of 36 years, that will divert my attention and energy. And I’d like to do some in-depth family and sociological research as well to flesh out my story. (I’ve also been floundering around with the story of my four times great grandmother, who was a spy in the Revolutionary War, trying to figure out exactly how to get rolling on it, since I know nothing about writing historical fiction. And I’ve written the draft of a script for a children’s picture book, but that ball's in the illustrator’s court.)
Nevertheless, I want to thank my bad reviewer, Arlene, wherever you are, for inspiring me. I plan to
dedicate this book, for the moment called Yet Another Cheesy Family Newsletter, to you.