Reviews and Ridicule
I came to a realization recently regarding my own writing.
A few weeks ago, I submitted a piece of my writing to the writing group I am a member of. Now, I had done this several times before and had thought I knew what to expect. They'd always been very good about giving good feedback along with the bad, had always made a point of ending on a positive note. With this in mind, I gave them the longest piece they'd ever looked at and in retrospect; it feels as if they tore it to shreds. It's been weeks since that happened and I've had time to gain distance from it. At the time, however, I found it almost impossible not to take it personally. When an author shares a piece of writing that's a work-in-progress, it's a show of trust. When I had my story ridiculed, torn apart and then given back to me with a "there's nothing to salvage here," I found myself wanting to do nothing more than put my laptop in a box.
I'm done. That's it. I suck. Why keep going?
Because I am stronger than that, I didn't give in. I've pushed and shoved onwards into the next story, next plot, next plot of characters. I've put distance between me and my hurt feelings, but more than that, I think I've realized just why my work was received as it was.
As you likely know from reading my recent post on the Cal Leandros series by Robin Thurman, I am one of her biggest fans. This is due to the bond between her main characters, which are almost always male. Sometimes they're brothers, sometimes they're brothers in all but blood, but they're always incredibly close, yet believable. That's what I've vied for. That's the sort of dynamic I want to insert into my own tales, but according to the reviews I've gotten, I'm somehow missing the mark. When I read a review of Robin Thurman's first book, Nightlife, (I own 13 copies now) I realized why.
I was raised in a rather unusual household. It isn't just that I was unschooled all my life or that both of my parents were atheist. It wasn't just that we were a bunch of hippies, believing in things like home births instead of hospitals, breastfeeding instead of formula, family beds instead of cribs. It wasn't even that we visited nudist resorts or that we changed diets as often as most people washed their hair. No. What made my household weird and unlike that of any of my friends was the LOVE and our ability to share it.
My parents have never yelled in anger, not at each other or at their kids. Throughout my childhood and then my teens, my parents are known to kiss, grope, fondle, tickle and even (GASP) play footsy under the table at meals. Many people reading this may frown on their doing this in view of their children, but to us, it was normal. It was our parent’s way of modeling what love was supposed to look like. And no, they didn't just do this at home. Out at restaurants, my dad would hold the door open for my mom as much as he would kiss her as she walked through. Walking into one of our billion favorite coffee shops, my mom would share the newspaper with my dad as much as she'd rest her leg on his knee while they read them. These aren't inappropriate acts. They're signs of love. It only seems weird because they're showing them to the world. Shouldn't we smile at the sight rather than remark "get a room?"
At this point, you might already think my family bizarre. Stick with me though. I do fully intend to swing this topic back to writing fiction and the epiphany I had regarding my own works.
A lot of people look at my parents PDA (public displays of affection) as odd, but they're a married couple of 31 years. It's unusual, but my dad dipping my mom in the middle of the library to kiss her for no reason other than he felt like it, is STILL romantic, even if startling to some. They're married. They're supposed to be close.
What people can't wrap their heads around is the idea of siblings being close. So what if my brothers and I hug each other after being gone all day, visiting with friends? So what if my 20 year old brother worked an eight hour shift, is in pain, so I rub his shoulders while the whole family watches TV? So what if I sit next to my 17 year old brother in bed and watch TV with him on his laptop, his hip jammed up against mine (because futons are NARROW!)? So what if my entire family is walking into a restaurant and my parents link arms, so my brothers and I do too? And finally, so what if my siblings and I say "I love you" to each other at the end of phone calls and when we head to bed at night?
We're FAMILY. We love each other. Why is it weird for us to show it? It's not creepy love. It doesn't cross any taboo lines. We don't have a house or a home. We have a haven. We're 100% percent comfortable with who we are here and who our family members are. Frankly, I think I'm lucky that our hugs aren't awkward. I'm lucky that I can say I love you to the people I adore without any hesitation. I'm lucky that if one of us is in pain, I can reach out and hold a hand, rub shoulders, kiss a cheek, sit closely so that he knows I am there.
I love this, but I will admit that compared to the rest of the world, we're weird. THIS is my normal, but it's the world's weird. Thus, when I insert this type of relationship, this type of physical and verbal affection, into my stories, I get adverse reactions. Writing about two fully grown brothers hugging each other after something traumatic comes across as un-masculine. Writing about two men, unrelated yet raised as brothers, who let each other see them cry--well, that's not just girly, that's just plain wimpy. In fiction and in life, it is unbelievable for men to be affectionate with each other and still be straight.
(1) I come from a household that is verbally and physically loving
(2) As a result, I like authors such as Robin Thurman and Sarah Rees Brennan, who write stories of characters who are also verbally and physically loving, such as brothers, sisters, really good friends
(3) As a result, I also write want to write about these types of relationships
(4) Because these are not societal norms, my stories and my taste in stories similar to them comes as a challenge to those attempting to review them
When I read that review of Robin Thurman's Nightlife, she was being given flack for the unbelievable connection between her two main characters, Cal and Niko. As a devoted fan, I knew just what the reviewer was bothered by. You know what? They were bothered by the very thing I love Robin's books for, the very thing I always write about, the very thing I grew up with. With all of this in mind, I can now understand why I got the incredibly critical feedback that I received from that writing group.
This has left me with just one question though: Shouldn't you showing your love for your loved ones BE a societal norm?