Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A reviewer and my bruised ego

An online reviewer, who shall remain anonymous, wrote a good  review of Skeleton in a Dead Space, a medium one of No Neighborhood for Old Women, and what amounts to a plot summary of Trouble in a Big Box. But he took the time and had the graciousness to explain to me that yes, I had racheted up the suspense in the third book as I promised him, but he still found that Kelly was drawn into crime-solving rather than being an active participant. He politely said my series was just not for him One of the first lesson an author learns on publication is that you never protest a review, so I wrote a short note thanking him for his honesty and his efforts on my behalf and promising not to send him any more books. But yes, my ego was a bit bruised.
And what he said went against everything I heard from the book group last week and have heard continuously from readers--they like Kelly as a person, they like knowing about her personal life and they admire her compassion. They also like envisioning all the characters and their relationship to each other--some said they could see them in their mind's eye. So do I listen to a reviewer or readers?
Of course, as I've mentioned often here before, when I need advice on writing I turn to Fred Erisman--he shepherded me through a Ph.D. in Western American Literature some forty years ago and has remained my friend and advisor ever since. He reads almost everything I write, and he's read all or part of each of my three mysteries. His take on this dilemma was reassuring and echoed what I hoped was true  He pointed out that of course Kelly is drawn into crime-solving--that's the point of any cozy mystery. The heroine/protagonist is an amateur, not a professional detective. She is going her merry way about her life, when she is drawn into solving a crime. And, he wrote, the qualities that make her interesting are the ones that compel her to poke about in a mystery--curiosity, compassion, outrage. The picture I present of her personal life helps the reader understand her in that context--a reader has to know the character to grasp the larger issues of the novel.
The reviewer was not allowing me the general characteristics of the genre in which I am writing.
Fred's parting advice? Pout a bit and then go on about your business. He, by the way, is not a fan of cozies but he accepts the genre for what it is, rather than looking for thriller touches where they would be inappropriate.
How about you? Do you read cozies with just enough mystery in them? Do you listen to other readers or to reviewers?


LD Masterson said...

I'm unpubbed but I've run into the same thing with crits inside my local writers' group. Some people have trouble adjusting their expectations to a genre other than the one they usually read.

Let it roll off.

Suzanne Lilly said...

The way I look at it, is readers of cozies will know the things the reviewer said don't apply. They'll still want to read the book based on the summary. In the end, this review is one more piece of publicity for you. Just keep writing! I like Kelly O'Connell.