My post on Tuesday, about friends who are also competitors, sparked more conversation than I expected – both in comments here and in other social media venues. It struck a chord with people, that we find ourselves in competition with the people who understand us best. I’m beginning to think that the concept of being in competition is what’s not real. Maybe that’s why we trip over it.
As I was mulling over these various comments, I saw that Elisabeth Lane over at Cooking Up Romance, put up this post, exploring her ideas about reviewing critically versus celebrating her love of the story. I became aware of Elisabeth and her blog when she tweeted about preparing the food for this review of my book, Ruby. I loved what she did so much, that I blogged about it, on the topic of sharing creativity. As I mention in that post, seeing something I imagined become an actual meal that she created was hugely satisfying and fun for me. We’ve since become friends and even met in person.
(She also did an unholy amazing take on the cannoli from Under His Touch – you have to see it!)
At any rate, Elisbeth’s post is about reevaluating her purpose for her blog, weighing the outside pressure she feels to be an objective, even critical reviewer of books against her initial concept, which was to celebrate the books she loves and do that by taking the food elements in them one step further and making them real. I really understand what she’s getting at because this is the aspect of writing and hearing feedback from readers that I love, too – this kind of communication and collaboration over something that lights us both up.
On one of my author loops, a newish writer asked about responding to reviews. This discussion comes up All The Time. There are certain reviewers in the community who are adamant – and have impressed this “rule” upon many writers – that authors should NEVER respond to reviews. They feel it creates a chilling effect on open discussion and that reviews exist solely for the reader and are off-limits to the writer. I can see the point there, particularly when writers want to argue the reader’s interpretation. (Just… no. Let it go. Once it’s published, it’s no longer solely ours.) However, what this prohibition does is kill one of the best, most exciting aspects of this art. An author writes largely in solitude and the reader absorbs the story in much the same way. It’s only then, when the reader feeds back to the author, that there can be real exchange. And it’s glorious.
I don’t think it’s fair – or even beneficial – to ask authors and readers both to forgo that profoundly exciting communication. That’s what art is about, the flow of ideas.
The photo above was taken by a longtime friend, all the way back to high school, Kathryn Greenwood Andrews. She sent it to me for Christmas, with a note that she picked figs for me because they’re the most sensual fruit. This is another kind of artistic feedback loop – that she offers to me her image that reflects the stories I tell. It’s hugely meaningful to me.
I suppose some would parse this dilemma by saying that authors should limit interaction to readers, and draw the line at actual reviewers. However, as Elisabeth points out, she wants to review the books – but only the ones she loves and wants to gush about. As with the idea that authors must compete with each other, I think the idea that a blogger must review critically and “objectively” is a false construct.
Of course, I really want Elisabeth to keep giving me culinary advice for my stories and then making the meals come true. The best kind of creative friendship.