Amy Beth asked:how do you personally deal with critics? Do you take what they say personally or are you able to brush it off?
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t take it somewhat personally . . . and sure, criticism stings. The thing that hurts most is when and if I am misunderstood–some folks are so small-picture minded that they completely miss the big picture, which is often where my message lies. The thing that irritates me most is when mature Christians behave like weaker brothers and claim offense at things that should not offend them. I always think of that verse that says, “Great peace have they who love thy law . . . and nothing shall offend them.” 🙂 If we are firmly rooted in Christ, why are we so easily ruffled?
The key, as in all things, is not to RESPOND to criticism out of anger or hurt. So after I’ve had a chance to vent to my husband (his first response is always, ‘Want me to beat ’em up?’ LOL. He’s such a man), I try to read the letter or review again and look for truths that it might contain and I might be too blind to see. At that point, if it’s a review, I let it go. Responding publicly to a bad review looks like sour grapes and accomplishes very little, if anything.
If it’s a letter, however, I try to be honest in my response. If I found a valid point in the letter, I thank the writer for bringing it to my attention. However, most people fire off these letters and emails in the heat of their passion, so most critical letters are not exactly Spirit-filled. I wrote one woman back and opened with: “You didn’t pray before sending this to me, did you?”
She wrote back and confessed that she had not . . . and then she apologized.
If the person is being hurtful, I tell them that their comments hurt. I honestly think that some angry letter writers don’t even realize that a real person will be on the other end of that exchange. Or they imagine that some mythical “staff” will sort through emails, so the author will never even see the letter. LOL! Oh, to have a “staff!”
So–I try to respond to critical emails and letters, and once that’s done, I simply file the letter away and try my best to forget it. Human nature being what it is, though, if I receive thirty letters filled with praise and encouragement and one negative one, which one am I going to remember? You bet, the angry one.
Any time you go public with anything–a blog, a book, a newspaper column–you are inviting the public to read, judge, and respond. So it is a good idea to devise a strategy for dealing with all of those things. And it’s very important to make sure you do your best in the first place, which is why I am constantly checking my theology and I trust my editors’ judgment when certain issues might raise a red flag with readers. IOW, I’ve learned to choose my battles carefully. (Joella Norris definitely has a bosom, but in the book the word has been changed to “chest.” I did, however, take a stand for “fart particles,” because that’s very true-to-kid.)
And I realize (sorry this is turning out to be a long answer) that many times the reader’s problem stems from something in the reader’s life, not mine. For instance, there’s a funeral scene at the end of “Doesn’t She Look Natural.” One online reviewer described the Episcopalian clergyman as a “hell fire and brimstone preacher” (yowsers!) while another reader wrote to tell me that I was mocking the Episcopal service. Wrong on both counts. The point of that scene was that many people in the audience were unused to the liturgy of the service. One of my dearest pals worships at an Episcopal church, and I love how she loves her denomination. I’d certainly never mock it.
So–sorry, didn’t mean to write a book. :–) But doing this is easier than jumping into work on a Monday morning . . .
Question: how did you research the stories? Just by spending hours at the library reading books? Did you have a specific topic that you looked up, or did you just start reading books in general about the period and build your story from there?
When writing a historical novel, two kinds of research are necessary. First is the “broad” research where you learn about the structure of government, family life, religion, etc. You learn how women are treated in a time period and how religion influences the daily life. You learn who was king and who wasn’t. You learn about social customs and prevalent beliefs. You learn about medicine, food, clothing, agriculture, etc. I usually spend a couple of weeks doing this broad sort of research, and I take copious notes. These days, I take them on computer. For Afton and my Egyptian series, I took notes on notecards, then organized them by topic. “Broad” research is necessary for plot (especially if events in the story revolve around historical events), and it can also give you ideas for plot (like learning about the twins/two fathers idea).
The second kind of research is what I call “detail” research–you’re writing along, and you say, “Wido sat down and ate . . . ” what? When I’m first-drafting, I usually just stick in a pair of brackets that look like this: [look up what he’d eat], and I keep going. In the second draft, I look up details about food, clothing, transportation, etc. Sometimes you don’t know what you need to know until you need to know it. 🙂
In the early days, I borrowed library books. These days, I tend to buy books and mark them all up. Yes, my library is very crowded. 🙂 NOTE: I do not read other novels for research. I might read other novels in that time period, but I don’t use novels for historical research because part of a novel is always “made up.” Trouble is, most of the time you can’t tell what’s “made up” and what’s historical.
Well, that wraps things up for another BOM. Thanks for coming along!
~~Angie, off to her book club meeting.