Sunday, November 7, 2010
RANTS, RAVES, AND REVIEWS by River Jordan
Recently I graciously received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for my most recent novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land. (To the anonymous reviewer – thank you! I am ever so grateful and pleased that the story spoke to you.) For some authors starred reviews seem to be a part of every release that they have, That hasn’t been my experience. And while I’ve been fortunate to garner a few critical kudos here and there, some novels seemed to have been flying in stelth mode going mostly unnoticed. Ah, balance grasshopper. It’s all about the balance.
And I imagine is that some readers who championed one novel will be curious why their favorite didn’t get a starred review or any notice but the latest one did. And granted, readers may love one novel that we’ve written and then not understand or embrace the next. It’s just the nature of storytelling. It happens to me all the time where I am breathessly in love with a particular book and can’t wait to get my hands on the writer’s next work only to feel a little let down. We bond that way with our stories, setting, and characters. And it’s OK!
Quick on the heels of my first Starred Review came a nice little One-star review on Amazon of same book (and that one-star not to be confused with the same as a Starred review. Much different. )Then I received another low grade reader review from a blogger. Sigh. Okay. So it was sent out to a whole lot of particular bloggers – about eighty, and a few didn’t care for it. I tried to visit them and write charming little notes that said, I get you. It’s ok. You don’t have to like everybody’s everything. And of course there are four and five star reviews and lovely comments to balance that out but here is the thing. What that Starred Review would have meant to me in my twenties is a far different cry than what it does today.
The wonderful Southern author, Terry Kay once told me, “Don’t read the reviews and don’t believe them. If you let the great ones affect you then you’ll have to let the bad ones do the same.” At the time I thought – what is he talking about???? But, Oh how right he was! The first nasty review (and yes, bless ‘em it was nasty) that I ever received on Amazon from a reader said something like - well, lots of stuff about me maybe writing the book on drugs instead of in seclusion as I “claimed” I had done. Excuse me? Do I know you? Have I brought calamity on your family? Has somehow reading something I labored over in love for hours, days, months, prayed over and wept over, ruined the rest of your life? OH -Nevermind, that this particular novel had received really nice reviews from everyone including Kirkus – that one mean and nasty review had me curled in the fetal position for awhile. But . . .
That was then. This is now. We all get them – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Rants, raves, and reviews. And then we get notes from readers who could care less about what any of the reviews said anywhere . They just appreciate the stories we write, and want us to know that. Our stories will sing to particular people – one novel to some people, another to a different tribe. We play out our words on the page and hope somebody finds them entertaining and good medicine to their souls.
Recently I’ve been reading Bookmarks Magazine. It’s a review magazine that summarizes many different recent releases and also promotes classics and some forgotten pieces. At a glance I can see that Nashville Chrome received four stars from the Dallas Times and two stars from – someone else and the source escapes me at the moment. I like the balance of this approach and it helps me see that everyone, the greatest and the least of these – can be cast in a glorious or disparaging light. Author and fellow Good Blog author Joshilyn Jackson does a great job highlighting this on one of her personal blogs, Faster than Kudzu. I encourage you to take a gander. She pulled some reader reviews for such books at Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, and so on and beautifully illustrates that we might as well stay a little calm, a little peaceful, and just a tad untouchable where all those high and mighty or low and nasty reviews might come from.
River Jordan is a critically acclaimed (and sometimes poorly reviewed) novelist. Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, a southern mystical work set in 1938 features a protagonist full of moxie and received a starred review from PW. Jordan’s first non-fiction narrative, Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit arrives from Penguin/Berkley in Hardcover April 5, 2011. She speaks around the country on the “Power of Story,” and produces and hosts the radio program, Clearstory on 107.1 FM from Nashville, TN where she makes her home with her husband Owen Hicks, Titan the wonder dog, and Moses – a steely-eyed tabby and very, tough editor.