A lot of writers, actors, and filmmakers refuse to read reviews of their works, but I find it hard to resist. Now that “Canterbury Hollow” has been in print a while, the reviews are starting to bubble up on Locus, SFRevu, Variety SF, and Not If You Were the Last Short Story on Earth. But how to survive the inevitable rush of disappointment? All I can say is that I have several strategies:
1. Take it all with a grain of salt. It’s just an opinion. One of the other stories in F&SF, James Stoddard’s “Christmas at Hostage Canyon”, is described by Lois Tilton thus: “…the unoriginal fight against Evil is awkward, a reworking of stale myths that inspires no belief.” On the other hand, Sam Tomaino thought it “such a perfect story that it will be the first story to add to my Hugo Nominations short list for 2011.”
2. The only thing worse than being talked about… Tinkoo Valia of Variety SF thought my story was “neither particularly impressive…[nor] crappy.” So while the story didn’t really grip him, I can say I have a reader in Bombay! How cool is that?
3. If a professional editor was impressed enough to buy a story, there will be readers who like it. Sam Tomaino at SFRevu called it “a poignant, beautiful story.” Thanks, Sam!
4. Respect your friends for being honest. Ian Mond is a friend of mine, but he did me no favours, saying, “I’m not sure, though, that I had enough investment in the relationship or characters for the idea of their inevitable death to have an impact.” (Unless Ian was being nice to me. Maybe he thought it was the worst story since “Eye of Argon”. In which case it’s pistols at dawn!)
5. Be prepared for readers to infer messages you never intended. While Lois Tilton liked the story, she concluded that it’s “[a] rather melancholy story of doomed love, dispassionately framed as an evolutionary event in the history of a species that always overruns its resources.” This is mostly right (and any shortcomings in the description can be slated to the fact that Lois has a few paragraphs to compact what can be very complex stories). But I don’t think of the story as melancholy. It’s about two people in an impossible situation, for sure, but it’s also about how they find solace together and take an active role in their fates. And while the story implies that humans will always overrun their resources (an hypothesis that I hope turns out to be wrong, although pessimism seems warranted at this moment in time), it also implies that exhaustion of resources is an unavoidable part of what drives us outwards, maybe even to the stars.
Given the psychological armour needed to read reviews of one’s own work, why even bother? Well, the experience of publishing for most writers is not that of bestselling celebrity authors. Instead of interviews and junkets, for the most part having a story come out is like dropping a stone down a well and waiting to hear a splash that never comes. Even if a review is lukewarm or negative, at least someone read it and cared enough to write about it.