Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Being both a Reviewer and Author

I have a somewhat harsh review coming out next month on Fantastic Stories of the Imagination 

Well....harsh for me.

As a reviewer and an author, I'll just say:

1) I hate being given a bad review. But if it's a bad review, I like it if the reviewers actually offer constructive criticism. I tend to do that when I review. I like it if a reviewer is fair and knowledgeable about themselves and their own biases (especially when it comes to race, sex, and religion.)

I've challenged reviewers about three or four times. All  those challenges I considered valid:

I once had a white reviewer lecture me on what Africans really think and why my story Changeling  was so bad and so entirely wrong for Griots, the african anthology it was in. Apparently I -- a black woman-- didn't know African culture as well as she --a white woman who had travelled to Africa-- did. All the Africans I knew loved my story by the way. In addition this reviewer named what she thought was the best story: the only story written by a white woman. I answered her review/bog and said it was interesting that the story she considered the best was the only story in the african antho that was written by a white woman. She didn't know the story she loved was the only story written by a white person but I could only think that she had been trained to like certain types of writing and was unaware how deeply inculturated she was while she was challenging me on culture. So I had to call her on it.

Another reviewer (Neth) hated one of my novels (Wind Follower) and said he couldn't finish it because nothing happened in it. He said among other things he was tired of women being saved by men. I answered him that it isn't a good idea to review a book one could not finish, that the format of that novel was a romance and romances had different rules, and reminded him that just because he wassick of women being saved doesnt mean blck women are sick of it. Black women saved by heroic princes was new for us. We were always the mules of the world and our vaginas were not on pedestals. So should minorities who are now just getting their literary voices shut up because white folks have"already said that." I was right but I shouldn't have done tht because some bloggers like seeming important. To this day this blogger/reviewer posts my comments everywhere. I've been told that other bloggers dislike him because he likes to feel important and probably loves it that an author challenged his review.

One reviewer said she would "anthropology geek" me and correct me about Wind Follower and various folklore issues. She began complaining about what was wrong with my anthropology. I just said no! She concluded I was touchy about my writing and said, "Well, some writers like being told where their mistakes are so they don't do it again." But the truth was that if I create a fantastical world with its own religions, cultures, histories, and social mores -- how can someone come in and tell me about folklore when it's my anthroplogy in my own created world was wrong?

The last reviewer I challenged hadn't been so bad at all...he had "kinda liked it" but he was still dismissive about the writings of a black woman fantasy writer and I hated that dismissiveness. Moreover, I had been so suicidal and depressed while writing that novel that it hurt to see someone dismiss the novel (Wind Follower) that had helped me commit to live.

So I try my best as a reviewer to remember how a bad review feels. I critique many stories by writer friends and I am a tough critiquer. So when I review published books I tend to fall into critiquer/beta reader mode. The trouble with this mindset is that the book I'm reviewing is already published by the time it's in my hand. When I find myself getting annoyed with the book's editor for not helping the writer, I feel the harsh relief is valid. Because I know I care about the writer's future books.  Will see how it all comes out.
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