One of Those Reviews

by Doranna

Sigh.  It didn’t used to matter.

I mean, it always mattered to ME, but I could console myself that strikingly nasty or baffling reader reviews didn’t matter in the big picture.

Of course, now reader rankings matter a whole lot, and one or two ugly ones can really skew the curve and affect sales.

And they still matter to me.

A nasty review is pretty obvious, both to readers and the author.  A baffling review…not so much.  Recognizing those takes knowing what’s in the book in the first place.

It’s one where you wonder if the reader was even looking at the same book.

A Feral Darkness just got one of those.  Someone is terribly upset at me for making certain statements about religion that…

Well, that wasn’t the book I wrote. 

In fact, it was the book I assiduously steered away from writing.

It would be easy to put this down to different folks/different strokes if the Catholic religion wasn’t specifically referenced several times in the review…along with the assertion that my intent is to make fun of that faith.  To mock it.

Now watch me scratch my head.  There isn’t any true presence of the Catholic church in this book (there’s a character who’s a lapsed Catholic, on the whole because of the conflict with the pagan elements).  There’s a pastor in the story, a thoughtful guy who happens to be very protestant, in his very protestant church.  I was rather fond of him, actually–I thought he tried to do his best to handle a difficult situation.

But the truth is, the book has pagan elements and pagan magic.  That’s kind of the whole point.  I wove together enough of those historical pagan elements across cultures (never mind the book learning…I called a monastary!)–to catch the eye of a British scholar, who interviewed me a couple of years ago and included A Feral Darkness in the resulting publication.  (I was beyond excited about that, yes I was!)  There’re ancient Celtic gods, ancient Celtic dogs…and one contemporary woman who has to make it all come together in the context of her rather practical life.

I hadn’t meant to examine the interface of religions, but the character went there (she rode her bike there, actually), and I had to follow.  It was not easy writing…but maybe that’s why the book has connected with so many people over the years (and boy am I grateful for that!).

Sometimes, in order to make that connection, you have to reach far deeper than is truly comfortable.  It’s a vulnerable, vulnerable place to be as a writer.

So it does baffle (and ouch!) me that anyone could take the resulting book as a mockery of any given religion, and it makes me a little sad.  On the other hand, I think what also surprises me–a lot–is that someone who feels this strongly about the (“disturbing”) interface of religions would not only pick up the (“sickening”) book in the first place, but would read it through to the (“pathetic”) end.

It still matters to me, though.



About Doranna

My books are SF/F, mystery, paranormal romance, and romantic suspense. My dogs are Beagles, my home is the Southwest, and the horse wants a cookie!
This entry was posted in Backlist Ebooks, Behind the Scenes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to One of Those Reviews

  1. That’s what baffles me too, Dee — why did the dissatisfied reader stick with it to the end? One person bashed a book of mine on Amazon, then bashed the one that followed it. If she hated the first one, why on earth did she read the second?

    Religion is a sticky subject for many people. If you are happy with what you wrote, I hope you can find a way to disregard this reviewer’s unfounded complaints.

    • Doranna says:

      Sandra, I’ll finish a book that I’m not particularly enamored with–maybe out of sheer stubbornness, but also because at some point I click into the mode of analyzing what appeals to the readers who do like it. But if it reaches a certain point–one certainly demonstrated in this review–I hit the delete key. Or toss the book into the “out the door” pile. So we are baffled together!

      Elizabeth, that’s the thing–it’s not okay to respond, answer, or even correct errors when it comes to these sorts of reviews–the backlash can be profound, no matter how respectfully you broach it. I feel terribly brave to have spoken up even this obliquely, which is…well, sad. But I really am puzzled. If nothing else, while I wouldn’t expect to change this reader’s mind, I would have liked to have been able to say it wasn’t my intention for him/her to feel mocked. This is fiction, based on a certain historical/fantastical premise…it’s a book in which remaining true to both story and character meant I had to make myself vulnerable as an author. How boring would it be if we didn’t feel free to do that? “Blah blah blah BLAH, Ginger.” And I agree totally–worldbuilding while ignoring religion removes a critical piece of the human experience. (How about a new term: “open mindfield.”)

      Patty–or even to acknowledge that their experience of something is *their* experience of that thing, and it might be different for others.

      Sue, that’s it exactly! The more we know, the more we can appreciate. Closed minds live in a very small world.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Been having a discussion elsewhere in the web-verse about religion in fiction. My contention is that it’s a hotter (in the sense of likely to trip hot-button reactions) topic than many of us writers realize. We sortakinda know that touching on religion in nonfiction can get surprising reactions that make us think “How the heck did they get THAT out of what I wrote?” But we’re used to thinking of fiction as fiction…as a place to explore stuff in a kind of safe bubble where everyone knows “It’s just a novel, after all” and calms down. Only some people don’t. And the way things are now, a negative review that’s somebody’s hot-button reaction spreads instantly to bazillion possible readers…and yeah, it’s a problem. It’s made worse by the convention that writers should never answer reviewers/critics, should not try to explain or argue or whatever–should not react in any way–because you can’t correct errors unless…yanno…you speak up and correct them.

    It’s clear that some readers/reviewers/critics approach a book with their suspicions set on SENSITIVITY: MAXIMUM….they are looking for, and ready to pounce on, anything that comes near one of their own personal hot buttons. They do not read with anything near an open mind…more like an open minefield, ready to explode if the writer touches, however lightly, on a topic that they’re defensive about. They will read carelessly–judging by a single word and skipping over the real story to the story that springs into their own mind at that point. (For this reader, it’s probably that if Catholicism isn’t presented as the ideal religion, it must be being attacked and mocked, and that’s the purpose of the book.) They are not willing to say “OK, it’s fiction…it’s not real.”

    Some would say “Then just avoid having any religious element in your fiction.” Yet I think considering religion is essential to writing complex, thoughtful, works with deeply complex characterization…it’s from characters’ beliefs, not thoughts, about questions religion deals with that their “deep logic” motivations spring. The kind of books you write, in other words. It’s a very human thing, something every human culture has done, and in fascinatingly different ways…try to feel its way into an understanding of what cannot logically be explained. Why are we here? Does that question even have an answer? Why do our best attempts turn around and bite us in the butt? Why can’t our lives match our dreams, our hopes of who we are? Why so much suffering? Can we do anything to change fate? And so on.

    Tough situation. Writers who want that depth and complexity will continue to reference characters’ spirituality and religion’s contribution to culture and individual root motivations…and some readers (and unfortunately, reviewers) will continue to go heresy-hunting rather than read the book for what it is.

  3. Patty says:

    I have that book on my nook–next in line for reading.
    Too many people seem to be sure they are always right and at the same time have lost the ability to think critically. Ugh.

  4. Sue Farrell says:

    So many close minded people today seem to think that only they have the “right” ideas and are ready to criticize and sometimes even threaten those with even slightly different ideas or questioning minds. These people have no critical thinking and blindly stick to their beliefs. I find them not only hurtful but sometimes downright scarey. I always enjoyed reading about and comparing different religious belief systems—and have been roundly criticized for it. Personally I think we are all better off if we know something about other cultures and religions and can appreciate each other for our differences.

  5. Jeanne says:

    I have always felt that to read fiction (of any variety…whether it be mysteries, fantasy, space opera, romance, etc., etc.) means that you should willingly suspend your own reality and enter the world that the author is offering to you with an open mind and without preconceived notions to taint that world…and enjoy!! And, by the way, “A Feral Darkness” is one of my favorites, and I reviewed it as such.

    If you can’t give fiction that open mind, just read non-fiction (and I think that your negative reviewer would probably have problems with a lot of that if it didn’t fit his/her notion of “HOW THE WORLD IS” according to him/her)!

  6. Marilyn says:

    Okay, I admit to being puzzled. Since I have read Feral Darkness. I remember identifying strongly with the main character for wanting to save her beloved dog. I remember being inspired to go comb out the cockleburs from Shadow and Sunny’s coats courtesy of the comments about owners who don’t. (In bur season, I just can’t keep up!)

    But mockery? No…

    Hmm. My husband says he hasn’t yet read the story. He’s Catholic. I think I’ll see what he thinks.

  7. Doranna says:

    Jean, I feel the same. Fiction should be a safe place to explore different ways of looking at things. Thoughtfully.

    Marilyn, it would be interesting to know if the religious issues are a tripping point for your hubby. I have to say this is the first time I’ve run across that reaction in decade-ish since Baen first released the paperback, but (shrug). And I’m not trying to second guess this reader’s discomfort with the subject matter. Just the extremity of the reaction…yes, still startled…

  8. I have to add that when a writer makes a big deal of all the research she did about a religion, but produces a novel filled with the most egregious errors, I am hugely annoyed. This happened with a recent bestseller. A lot of people who grew up in that religion were incensed by all the blatant and absurd mistakes. If the writer hadn’t claimed to have done the proper research (which she obviously had not done), I believe readers would have been annoyed but wouldn’t have sworn to never read another of that author’s books.

  9. Doranna says:

    Sandy–oh, we all have those sorts of hot buttons. With me it’s the egregiously bad use of horses and dogs in fiction.

    This is, I believe, the first time I’ve mentioned the research I did for this book, so hopefully that isn’t part of what triggered this reader’s reaction. I will say right out loud that I didn’t research the Catholic faith one little bit–because it really isn’t meant to be part of the book. I had to make certain characters lapsed Catholic because they would have been of that religion (having come from the region where they did), or that wouldn’t have been in the book at all!

    BTW, one of the recent shows I love that’s brave enough to tackle the religion thing is BONES. I love how Boothe is unabashedly invested in his faith, and Brennan really, really isn’t…and how they talk about it matter-of-factly. (Well, not without passion, but without blame.)

  10. The book I’m referring to has a plot that is built entirely around church life, procedures, and rituals, so the mistakes really stuck out for anybody familiar with that religion. But when the religious bits are an aside, not affecting the plot, I don’t know why anyone would care.

    Now I’m dying to read that review! 🙂

  11. Lady Jade says:

    Where the hell did the Catholic faith come from???? The Protestant faith is MILES away from Catholicism….*shaking head*

  12. Doranna says:

    Lady Jade, Masera is a lapsed Catholic; so is his mother (not actually on stage in the book). That seems to be the problem.

    Sandy, I am fearful to point out loud at the review, but you can feel free to email me. It’s not hard to find. 8)

  13. KarenJG says:

    Well, I found it. And I had to copy my review from Amazon and paste it over at the other site (which shall remain nameless, but its name starts with a “B”), with a note tacked on the end. Because, you know, A Feral Darkness is one of my very favorite books, and I just couldn’t let it go.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I love the phrase “open mindfield.”

    And I wish very much that writers weren’t treated like condemned criminals, gagged and tied to a post for everyone to throw stones at, if they want to. I’m never happy with social structures that enforce unequal power…and this certainly does. The argument that writers have more power because they’re published comes from people who haven’t got a clue what it’s really like to be a writer. What you have is more vulnerability–more exposure to people who don’t like you.

Comments are closed.