The Critic, The Author, the Reviewer and Her Blog

As some people already know, I generally don’t read reviews of my work.

There are a few reasons for that. One is that they’re a distracting influence when I’m writing (back in the day, little snippets of reviews used to pop into my head while I was trying to work). Another is that, since they’re written about things I’ve already published, there’s not much point in knowing about what I did wrong when it’s too late to fix it. But the main reason is simple cowardice. Back when I first decided I wouldn’t read any reviews, I simply couldn’t handle just the idea of reading negative things about myself or my writing (at the time, the two were inextricably linked in my mind). In fact, back when The Dark Griffin was first published, I was so terrified that people would hate it that I had a full-blown nervous breakdown and had to seek professional help.

I eventually recovered from that, but afterwards I decided that for my own mental wellbeing I wouldn’t read anything written about my books online. Aside from causing me anguish it stopped me from writing, so overall I thought it was best to keep away. I broke my rule a few times, and usually regretted it, but the unfortunate side effect of all that was that it left me with a distorted mental image of critics as cruel, cynical people out to mock and sneer at anyone who managed to publish a book, bent on tearing down the creations that people like myself had poured so much passion and hard work into. And, since I avoided critics as a rule, I had no way of ever really changing that view.

A long time after this, the Voyager blog published a link to a couple of reviews that had recently been published, one of which was for The Dark Griffin. Since the post said they were good reviews I thought “ah, what the heck”, and clicked on the link to the Dark Griffin review. It led me to a website called Speculation on Spec Fic, where the owner, a fellow Australian named Shaheen, had written a nice and well-thought-out review of Dark Griffin. It was, as the Voyager blog had said, a positive review, but Shaheen had pointed out a couple of weaknesses in the book, one of which was that it never explains how humans and griffins “got together”, as it were. It was something at least one other person had mentioned, and seeing it mentioned again now got me thinking. Specifically, I thought “oh yeah, that’s right – I never did explain that, did I?”.

In fact the original manuscript of the book had included an explanation, but since it came in the form of an infodump which didn’t fit with the rest of  the story very well, I removed it. After that the question never really came up again, and so the full explanation has never appeared in any book. The in-world reason for that is simple enough: there was no single date in which humans and griffins joined forces, and there is no one story behind it. It happened gradually, like the domestication of dogs in this world, which is why the characters never really think about it – it’s just always been that way.

In any case, having read this review I decided that this missing explanation would make an interesting blog entry on this website, especially since other people had most likely been wondering about it too. I duly wrote up an article about it, in which I linked to the review.

Then, to my amazement, who should show up on the website but none other than the author of that review, astonished that her review had not only been read by me, but had prompted me to write out an extended reply. I was surprised and touched by how pleased she was, and in retrospect a little embarrassed. The whole episode served as a reminder to me that critics aren’t sneering creeps (well, not all of them), but that most of them do what they do out of love for books. To be honest I was humbled, and though I stuck to my policy of avoiding reviews I revised my earlier, extreme attitude.

 

This was all some time ago, but I have recently had a reason to remember Shaheen, and not just because she has just blogged about me for a second time. A month or so ago I was thinking about writing another short story for the website, and found myself thinking of the human/griffin relationship again. After some consideration I sat down and wrote a story called The First Partnership, which is told from the point of view of one of the first griffins ever to start living alongside humans. It isn’t up on the website yet, but will be added before too long – sooner if people start asking to see it.

Anyway… I want to thank Shaheen for her support of my books, and to offer a mild apology for my earlier attitudes, even if I have never shared them publicly before now. In her own way a critic risks as much as an author does – both of us are sharing something of ourselves, and risking the dislike of others for doing so. It’s not an easy way to go, but in the end, we need each other.

 

 

 

 

On an unrelated note, I have just received the proofread manuscript of book six, The Shadow’s Heart. It will be published in January 2014, but I have to give it one final going-over first. I’m looking forward to seeing this one published; it’s my favourite so far.

 

Here is a picture of my with my dad at the Parkes Observatory this weekend. My dad was interviewing one of the researchers there for his radio program, and I was there for the R&R.

Parkes Aug 2013 (59)

Neato text ornament here