I open my mouth only to change feet (with apologies to @jay_lake)

So this is Twitter

I’ve often likened Twitter to a big pub party, where everyone wanders around bumping into and overhearing little conversations about this and that, and where if you say something too loudly or obnoxiously the entire room goes quiet and everyone looks at you.

Well, I’m usually well-behaved on twitter, but I do on occasion post an opinion.

That was a little joke, by the way.

Anyhow, so I regularly contribute to the weekly #spbkchat on twitter, and recently the topic was ‘Antarctic/Artic’ literature. I was trying to think of books that touched on that area, and thought of Mainspring by Jay Lake. Now Jay is an award winning author, and a good one! However, due to personal preferences I was not a fan of that particular book, so I also added that I hated it a lot. I was pretty polite, because it’s Twitter, but there could be no confusion about my opinion:

#spbkchat The end of Mainspring by Jay Lake is in Antarctic. But it’s 1 of my most hated novels & not worth reading that far. #personaltaste

Well, you can see where this is going: Jay Lake reposted the tweet, and onto his facebook wall, too. I don’t really use facebook anymore but it’s not a place your contrary opinion wants to be surrounded by fans! Call this the ‘cold in the pit of my stomach’ moment.

Facing the target of your criticism

Of course I quickly apologised (a little – after all, my opinion is my opinion):

@jay_lake nothing personal, I love your short fiction but I can’t stand Mainspring.

And Mr Lake politely replied:

@cacotopos All good. I didn’t take personally. I never do w/fiction. The story always belongs to the reader. I’m fascinated by the passion.

Whenever people are fascinated I’m also fascinated, and he was absolutely right. Even though I really don’t like the novel (which I think is due to a combination of misplaced expectations on my part through marketing, plus what I consider flaws in the plot, pacing, characters, etc), I did finish reading it, and I did have a very passionate response to it.

I summarised this small revelation:

@jay_lake and you raise an excellent point – a book could never be considered a failure if it provokes such passion. 🙂

Obscurity vs Passion

Imagine reading a book and just putting it down one day and never picking it up again, forgetting its title, its author, etc? I think this is much worse for a writer than an extremely positive or negative response.

Obviously everyone has their own experience. A response to my brief opinion on facebook was that Mainspring was someone’s favourite gifted book! Which is great, it’s just not for me.

Oh yeah, that other foot…

Oh, shit.After that little conversation I remembered that my negative review for Mainspring is the ‘customers found this most helpful’ review on Amazon.

This qualifies as an ‘oh shit’ moment, but what do you do? Pretend yester-you didn’t have an opinion?

I’d like to apologise to Mr Lake for my old…negative passion. I had finished reading the book and pretty much got stuck into the review immediately, and although I didn’t reread the review recently, I hope I didn’t get too ad hominem. Oh well…

This is the internet!

Ah yes, the other side of the internet, where when you don’t hide behind anonymity you are justly called to account for your opinion!

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t post anonymously, and so far I’ve yet to be swamped by personal attacks online.

It would be great to hear similar stories in the comments so I don’t feel so bad. I had another experience like this while passionately tweeting about playing Fable III, but that’s a tale for another time.

4 thoughts on “I open my mouth only to change feet (with apologies to @jay_lake)

  1. I think that if you are going to make a negative review, it helps to spell out why, and then if an author considers it a personal attack, it’s pretty clear that it is not.
    Any author who reacts in a stupid way to a negative review usually draws the short end of the stupidity straw anyway.

  2. Pingback: [links] Link salad heads for the Emerald City | jlake.com

  3. Yeah…I don’t know. It’s a bit like the old ‘any publicity is good publicity’ line. Which is nonsense, unless you just want fame for the sake of fame.

    In writing, you might want passion, but that passion should be productive in a manner that is in line with your goals. I don’t believe art is simply there to invoke an emotion – I feel it is useful when it invokes the emotion you intended to produce. Getting a government grant to take milk baths in the middle of the desert and calling it a success because people are emotionally distraught at my waste of funds (and milk!) is futile, IMO, and while it might technically be artistic, it’s hardly a meaningful concept.

    Likewise, if somebody hates my story, I feel I’ve failed if my aim was to write an escapist piece. I struggled through Anthony ONeill’s god-awful ‘Scheherazade’ and was enraged by his cheating ending. I’ve never forgotten his name or the book, but if only to tell people who dreadful the book was and to remember never to buy anything of his again. He failed as a storyteller, in my opinion, and for all purposes he might have had better success as a writer had the book be only so bad that I never finished it.

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