Sweating the Small Stuff

One good thing about dark winter mornings is that I’m awake for the sunrise. Not something I would otherwise make an effort for, but look what I miss in the summertime.

Today is our 21st anniversary. On this date, lo these many years ago, David took me out for a drink and to see a movie after the Superbowl. I’m terrible at dating and neither of us had much fun. Still, he persisted and I liked him, so we had a little fling.

We’re still flinging.

Funny how that works out. More and more I think that life, the universe and everything doesn’t take well to being planned out. Certainly not to being controlled. That’s why I like the idea of Tao – grab a wave and do your best to ride it without drowning.

It seems I see a lot of people grasping for control lately. Maybe it’s a feeling of instability embodied by that deathless phrase “in this economy.” I don’t even know what that means anymore, except that it somehow conveys that people are afraid. And fear often makes us hold on tighter, with clenched fists and squinched-up eyes. We might become less tolerant, rather than more flexible. Less inclined to let the small stuff go. Less able to see that it’s all small stuff.

One of my book blogger Twitter pals posted this today – a contract that an author sent to a book reviewer. It seems to be yet another attempt to control the uncontrollable – if, when and how a book gets reviewed. And, it’s ultimately an unenforceable contract. I’ve heard of other authors telling reviewers that they can only post reviews of three stars or better. Or arguing with readers who give story “spoilers.”

Ultimately it’s like trying to keep Tom Cruise from being cast in your movie: it might be terribly wrong, but it’s not a fight you can win.

As my friend Laura Bickle says, “I don’t want to die on that hill.”

A particularly poignant way of pointing out that we have to pick our battles. Fight for what you want, for what’s right, necessary and important.

But, really – don’t sweat the small stuff.

(Hint: it’s pretty much all small stuff.)

Before You Weep Over that Review…

I made a mistake when I took this photo. Apparently I moved the camera at precisely the right moment to create a shadow image. I had no idea I’d done it at the time. Only when I looked through the backlog of images on my camera this morning did I see it. I kind of like it.

It’s a good reminder.

The hoopla over “bad” reviews and various author reactions seems to be growing worse, not better. I put this down to several factors. Mainly, there are a lot of people who eat up this drama and love it when a new fight breaks out. These are the people who run around yelling “Fight! Fight!” while rounding up everyone they can find to scream from the sidelines. This is the reality TV of the interwebs. And, to follow up that analogy, the book reviewers and authors have discovered that this kind of fame is still fame. It’s all, as I’ve mentioned before, the chocolate-covered heroin of attention. A hit is a hit, after all. It might be the poisonous grade, but it’s better than jonesing.

At any rate, I don’t read all of my reviews. I read some, here and there. Especially if the reviewer calls my attention to it. But I’m fragile enough that I often skip the low-star reviews. I know, I know. Toughen up, sweetheart.

Eh, I’m not much for pain, outside certain contexts.

Then, the other day, I saw a book blogger on Twitter mentioning my name along with several other authors, saying she was doing a giveaway of some of her new favorite authors. I tweeted her back with a thank you and she replied that she was happy to, that she’d loved Sapphire. Surprised I’d missed a “loved” mention on a book blog – and, ok, maybe ready for a little hit of heroin – I looked at the review. Now I remembered seeing it. I hadn’t read it before, because she only gave it three stars.

Turns out, she uses a scale of zero to four stars. And she rated it low because she thought it was too short. (It’s amazing how many reviewers will do this. Feeding the Vampire gets low stars all the time for being too short. It’s one of the great drawbacks of digital presentation, I think. Had Feeding the Vampire been in a short story collection, for instance, no one would have felt betrayed by its brevity. But, because readers don’t necessarily pay attention to length when they buy and download, they settle in to read a novella or novel, only to have it end when they expect the story to be ramping up. I don’t blame them a bit – I’d likely feel the same way.)

Still, the point is, you never really know what you’re going to get and who will turn out to be a supporter. She didn’t have to include me in this special giveaway with these well-established authors. I didn’t expect such enthusiasm from that quarter.

Sometimes you look again, and see something you didn’t before.

Email Lives Forever and Ever

This photo is for Laura Bickle. She knows why.

In the movies, there’s often a motif of someone seeking a particular document with important information. The bad people try to destroy it and the good people make lots of copies and put them in safety-deposit boxes or mail them to reporters. Usually the bad people manage to destroy most of the copies, but one will triumphantly make it through, to damn them before the world of public opinion.

This can never work in the world of email.

When I first became involved with some of my author loops, I was very surprised to encounter the “rule” that you could not forward emails off-loop. The thing is, that kind of thing is a courtesy and absolutely unenforceable. At the company I work for, all emails are considered company property and are archived for years. Nobody would ever say an email can’t be forwarded. Because, of course, it easily can. There is really only one true rule:

Never put anything in an email you wouldn’t want brought before the ethics committee or read in public. Or before a judge.

Last week saw a new author blow up over reviews, only with a new spin. A reviewer on Amazon gave a book a scathing review. Yes, it was harsh, mocking the book for being what the reviewer saw as a Twilight rip-off. The author did not melt down publicly over this. However, the reviewer received a forwarded email allegedly written by this author and sent to a group of friends or readers. The email asked them to go to Amazon and rate the review as unhelpful, so it would drop off the screen.

Brouhaha ensued.

I don’t know if anyone established if this was true, but the principle applies in general. An important lesson I’ve learned from my day job about being a writer. Assume that anything you put in an email, even to trusted friends or a “private” loop, can be made public.

And if it’s juicy, it probably will.


Yesterday I was telling my mom about the implosion of this project we’re working on and how there’s a lot of blamestorming going on now.

She loves me and thinks I’m brilliant, so she thought I made up the word. Which I didn’t. It was on one of those email lists a while back along with one of my other favorites “the Dopeler Effect,” which is the tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

At any rate, this one guy just hasn’t done what needed to be done. Maybe he just never had the ability. And now other people are being drawn into it like a giant black hole of failure. Okay, just a little black hole of failure in the grand scheme, but with tremendous sucking power, and I mean that on every level.

Meanwhile, in the online literary world, there are a couple of writers who’ve recently imploded, one published, the other trying to be, both for the same issue: reviews.

Readers and writers watched in horror as a writer reacted to a one-star review of her book on Amazon with increasing anger. She has since deleted her comments, which was the wise thing to do, but it was far too late as those of others remain.

The book review blogger, Katiebabs, has now posted this story about an unpublished writer who has posted her, yes, unpublished book on Good Reads and asked for reviews. She wants to create sufficient buzz to ensure a publishing contract. The catch is, she’s asked readers to refrain from reviewing it unless they’ll give it three stars or more. The post on Katiebabs has an interesting conversation between readers, writers and reviewers in the comments.

The thing is: we all have to meet standards in our work. It doesn’t really matter if the standard is fair or if it’s just someone else’s opinion. You can’t bully people into saying you did a good job. Or whine your way into it. “Blamestorming” is a funny word, because we’ve all been there. It’s easy to free-associate reasons for why things didn’t go the way you want them to.

We watched Earth last night. Which was stunning in its beauty and devastating in showing the indifferent cruelty of nature. I ended up crying for the deaths of a baby caribou and adult polar bear who couldn’t get at the baby walrus. It makes no sense and yet I want everyone to win.

Have I mentioned I’m a sensitive soul? Yeah, even David laughs at me, rooting for both sides.

But, like the earthquake in Haiti, it isn’t God who did it, nor was it the Devil. It just is. Some hits are harder than others — sometimes a person loses everything, sometimes your feelings are hurt or your work reputation is damaged — but we all take them.

What’s important is taking them with grace.