Goodreads is having trouble with it's feed right now, so I thought this would be a good time for this post.
See, the thing is, about two years (give or take about four months) ago, I did a post called "Big, Round Numbers"-- and I was sort of excited. I was going to have 1,000 ratings on GoodReads--and that meant, if nothing else, 1000 people had read my books. I was hoping this meant that finally, I could have some perspective on reviews, and finally, I could grow into my lizard skin and feel some confidence that, no, I didn't really suck.
Since then, I've hit a couple of numbers that I don't think I ever expected, and had some good and some bad things come of it.
Now, blog people tend to celebrate their numbers-- they celebrate how many posts they've done, how many years they've been blogging. Numbers are good-- they remind us of how much of our life has been dedicated to a project, and, sometimes, how successful that project is. We all know that sometimes numbers lie, and that statistics only tell us exactly what the statistic is GEARED to tell us, and that most other speculation and extrapolation can be both useless and misleading-- but still. Here are a couple of my stats thus far:
Blog posts (new blog only): 1021
Years blogging (as of July): 6
Number of actual books/novellas/short stories out: 42
Number of ratings (as of this morning) on GR: 14,480 (Alas, I can't separate those that are just for me and those that are for all of the anthologies. Or maybe I could, but who has that kind of time?)
Number of reviews: 2, 350
Now, before anyone gets too excited, remember what these numbers mean. They mostly mean that I'm getting to a place (I HOPE) where I can be confident enough in what I'm doing to be able to be grateful for the good, and to live with the bad. It's a hard place to arrive in this business, because in case you haven't noticed, they are KILLING each other out there.
There is a moment in Seminar, the play I saw in New York, in which Alan Rickman delivers a line so powerful, so full of pathos, that I literally teared up.
"I have no skin for writing anymore. I have no skin for this business. I would rather write the words and let the pages blow away on the sidewalk--no, not blow. There's got to be another word for that."
The moment was heartbreaking. Here was a writer--someone who was actually wonderful at putting words on paper, and the world had used him up, shucked him like corn, leaving only the tender parts exposed to the world and shriveling up at the abrasiveness of oxygen. He'd been so destroyed by the critical world that he couldn't even say the words without editing himself. "Blow" was not good enough. There were better words. He just wasn't good enough to remember them. It was horrible.
It was horrible, because I've been there.
Those of you who have been around for a while have watched me struggle with this. And when I started out, it was just a few of us, and I was so very free, and so very open about putting the things in my heart and in my mind directly onto the blog. It was fun, but I learned in a right hurry not to do that-- don't put anything out there that would hurt someone's feelings, or outrage the world, unless that was my intent! Well, it was never my intent. I learned to reign in my temper, I learned to make my blog entries a little more professional (well, not the proofreading!) and I learned not to say anything on the blog that I wouldn't say to a person's face, because very often, that was exactly what happened. It's funny how setting myself free on paper taught me how to reign in the worser parts of myself like nothing else in my life.
My opinion of my own self-control is not particularly grand, so it always (and still) surprises me when I see that critics have not learned the same lessons I have. Three years ago, I was still naive enough to think that they should have--that there should be some accountability to the people who criticized books, in the same way there was accountability for myself when I criticized the people in my life. For those of you who don't remember, (and I don't see why you would-- this is something only I would obsess about--let's remember who's speaking!) three years ago, (or close to--it was in August) I got a review on Vulnerable so hideous, and painful, that I felt compelled to respond.
Now three years ago, I was in the midst of trying very hard to live by the credo NEVER RESPOND. I WAS. I'd done it once or twice, regretted the hell out of it, and I'd seen that you couldn't win. But, you all know me by now-- if I did it, it would be so much less problematic than if someone else did it. Blargh. Fucking hubris. It WILL get you every time.
So anyway-- the review came out, it was heinous. I responded. I said, in essence, "All writing is personal. Even snide reviews that are trying to prove that the reviewer is smarter than everyone else. I don't know if you know how much about yourself that you revealed in this review." (Okay-- maybe not an exact quote--but for my first response, it's damned close.) My point was, that the reviewer had called Arturo a hot Latin lover, or something to that effect, and had called Cory "pudgy white trash." The review was racist and classicist, and really unflattering to the person who wrote it.
Yeah, it was a mistake. I knew it was a mistake when I wrote the first reply. And the second. The third was to say that the reviewer had changed the review in response to my comments, which meant it was not authentic--and to say I was walking away, which I did.
The conversation went on for 21 more responses after that--without me. It got ugly--ugly enough to lose sleep over. Ugly enough for me to contact people off-list and ask them to please stop defending me--that whole conversation needed to go away. I'd made the mistake of responding to a bully--it was my bad--but we needed to end it.
Eventually it ended. Sort of.
As recently as last month, I was getting the occasional letter on GoodReads from Random Stranger, saying, "Due to your behavior on Amazon.com, I won't read your books." I was like, "WhatEVER--it was a long time ago. Do what you think best!" But I couldn't figure out where Random Stranger had found out about the altercation--it's not like I advertised. I didn't take my responses down because I'm not excited about people just sweeping their mistakes under the rug, me included, and I talked about it here, because even then, it was a learning experience, but seriously-- how long is that to hold a grudge?
Well, apparently, the grudge had help.
Recently, I saw a "review" on one of my book pages that simply said "see comment". I went to the review page, and there was a link titled "Authors behaving badly" or something close. I clicked the link. There, in full color, recently updated, was the bulk of the exchange I just talked about. From three years ago. All in full color, with little candy skulls as a background (which has since been changed) and complete with comments that I made about the incident in the blog-- including the comments about the review being racist and classicist (which it was, before the final revision). So, someone not only made a picture of this conversation I had in amazon, and prettied it up with graphics, they stalked my blog for my comments about the incident and with the aptitude of a Republican campaign spin doctor, advertised my long-ago fuck-up for the world to see.
And this reviewer pasted this link (in the same sideways manner) on EVERY ONE OF MY BOOK PAGES, including anthologies. (This last doesn't seem fair, since the other people on the anthology had nothing to do with the incident.)
Okay-- so for the record, if you're looking at the numbers that I posted above, go ahead and subtract 47 from the number of reviews there-- because this really doesn't count as a review. And seriously, in the bigger picture?
I'm a little creeped out.
Seriously. I've been STALKED by someone who wants to make me look bad? Wow.
It's like being the fat kid, sitting in class, working on a paper, when suddenly some obnoxious kid starts jumping up and down saying, "Ew! Ew! EW! Teacher!!!! Amy Lane just picked her nose and ate it!!!!"
Now, whether or not I did, (and, let's face it, I copped to it, I did the internet equivalent of picking my nose in public. Sorry,) let's take a look at this scenario.
Yeah--in the first couple of days/months after the incident, the fat kid (that's me!) is going to get picked on for that. It's going to be horrible. It's going to suck. It's gonna make the kid want to quit on EVERYTHING, because that's what bullying does.
But now, let's fast forward a couple of years and look back on the incident and...
And suddenly, the fat kid is doing all right, and the people in the class are feeling sort of bad for picking on her, and you know who everybody really hates?
Yeah-- that obnoxious kid jumping up and down screaming, "Ew! Ew! EW! TEACHER!!!!"
Seriously-- think about it. THAT kid is getting NO love from anyone right now. And that's too bad. Because it seems like that kid should have had better things to do than trying to make the fat kid doing her homework feel like crap.
But that's the sort of realization it takes some years and some perspective to come to. That's the sort of thing that maturity brings you.
That's one of the reasons we keep track of big, round numbers-- to see if that maturity is ever going to come creeping round the corner. I'm thinking it's getting closer by the day.
* I just checked, mostly to find the link so I could show it to you, and by my request the link has been removed from my book pages. If anyone is REALLY interested, I can provide you with the link to the original conversation--it's still up on amazon.com on the Vulnerable book page, under the review with "Sophomoric Slop" in the title. I sort of avoid that page though-- just because I'm willing to fess up to the incident doesn't mean I like to look at it in living color every day!