Critic speaks. Writer crumbles.

Monday, Aug 20th, 2007 @ 02:55 pm

For the past week, I’ve thought about giving it up.  Quitting the writing biz and taking up, oh, winemaking instead.  I’m serious about this.  I’ve been depressed and whining to my husband that I’ve lost my writer’s instincts and no longer know what the hell I’m doing.  I question my ability to ever write another book.  Most of all, I’m tired of pouring my heart and soul into a story, just to have it ripped to shreds by complete strangers. 

The reason for my angst is this: BONE GARDEN got a lousy review from Publishers Weekly. 

I tried to cheer myself up by remembering that back in 1996, PW said my debut novel HARVEST would surprise “only readers who move their lips.”  In other words, I’m the writer that only a moron could appreciate.  Through the years, P.W. has gone on to call my books formulaic and disappointing.  Yet through all those bad reviews, my sales and readership continued to grow, which must have infuriated the literary geniuses who hate me over at P.W. 

This time though their review really hurt, because I believed so strongly in THE BONE GARDEN.  I love this book.  The fact that PW didn’t love it made me question my own judgment.  It made me lose all confidence in my writing.  It made me decide that, as much as I love telling stories, I would be emotionally happier and healthier just writing books for my own pleasure, and never letting them see the light of day. 

Then today, in one of those weirdly typical twists in the publishing biz, everything changed.  I’ve just heard that THE BONE GARDEN got a rare and much-coveted starred review from Kirkus:

“Readers with delicate stomachs may find Gerritsen’s graphic descriptions of corpse dissection hard to take, but the story, which digs up a dark Boston of times long past, entices readers to keep turning pages long after their bedtimes.”

Kirkus loves the book.  Maybe I’m not washed up.

I guess I won’t be retiring after all.

31 Responses to “Critic speaks. Writer crumbles.”

  1. Wendy says:

    It’s more impressive that Kirkus loved The Bone Garden – they typically hate everything (unless it’s a tender coming of age story translated from the original Swahili). Clip the review, blow it up a few hundred times, and make a poster out of it.

  2. JMH says:

    A review is nothing more than one person’s subjective opinion about a book. Give the same book to 100 different people and you’ll get 100 different reactions. It’s the majority of the reactions that define whether the book is hitting the sweet spot or not. It’s not a good idea to blow a bad review, or a good one for that matter, out of proportion. In the end, the reading public will decide if the book is one that they collectively like or not.

  3. BernardL says:

    If Stephen King thinks you’re better than Palmer, Cook, and Crichton, what the heck do you care whether some hacks at PW don’t like your work? Add to it your readers like you because they keep buying your books, and you’ve covered the only two criteria to writing success: both peer and fan appreciation. I’m sure you’ve seen this Kurt Vonnegut quote, but it never hurts to read it again. :)

    Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
    Kurt Vonnegut

  4. Craig says:

    Well, I read the review.

    1. Five Sentences is not a review; it’s a blurb.

    2. The impression I have is the reviewer doesn’t find the subject matter interesting.

    3. Writing a “review” and not signing your name is plain cowardly. I’ve reviewed several books and some CDs on Amazon and I ALWAYS signed my name.

  5. Dru says:

    I’m glad you you’ll continue to tell us your stories.

    Dru Ann

  6. Tess, a very accomplished, very talented bestselling author just recently reminded me not to take a bad review to heart. You might want to take her advice because I think you know her and she’s very smart…

    Felicia Donovan
    THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY

  7. dustinhood says:

    You cannot quit the writing business. Without you, I wouldn’t be writing today. I am a very high recommended for all of your books. I have started at least five people to start reading your books. Don’t you dare quit on me, because if you quit, I quit as well. And besides that, you bust you a** on everything. Not just writing your books, but also responding to all of your e-mail personally. Without that, I wouldn’t be writing today. PLEASE DON’t QUIT!!

    Dustin Hood, 15

  8. tiffany_miser says:

    I am so thrilled to hear that you are not going to retire. I have read so many books since I was little and never found a favorite author until I stumbled upon your book The Surgeon 4 or 5 years ago. Since then I have read all your books and love them. If you stop writing then I’ll never pick up another book again lol. I know it is hard not to get discouraged about one persons opinion but remember that it is just one persons opinion and the majority rules in favor of you. You have a ton of fans who love your creativity.

  9. Jude Hardin says:

    My novel on submission (through a reputable agent) has gotten nothing but rejections so far. Kind words from the editors, but rejections nonetheless.

    Talk about depression.

    Maybe I should quit writing and make wine, too. Or at least drink a bunch of it.

    Wanna get drunk sometime? ;)

    What I wouldn’t do for a book deal, a lousy review from PW, and scores of fans who lined up for my drivel regardless.

    I don’t think reviews will ever hurt my feelings, long as I have a few readers who were moved somehow or even merely entertained for awhile by my work.

    You’re a very lucky person, Tess. Love ya. Count your blessings.

  10. Tatiana says:

    Being told “you suck” is hard to take in any context. Being told “you suck” after you’ve invested a year or more of your time, blood, sweat, and tears is heartbreaking.

    Being able to tell the reviewer that he/she “sucks” is priceless, even if it’s just a private raspberry in his or her general direction. You already have a contradictory review. And you have millions of reviewers who pay for their copies, actually *read* them, and know what they like – - your books.

    You might want to practice those raspberries just in case the first reviewer is *gasp* wrong, hmmm?

  11. Vanessa F says:

    I ignore movie, book, and music reviews completely. I figure critics see the same thing over and over and it takes a lot to impress them. I’ve seen many a movie that got horrible reviews but I loved it. I bet I’m not the only one like that :)

  12. Ray-Anne says:

    I am sure you would agree that ‘The Crows of Doubt’ circle above every writer – usually in the middle of the writing.
    Suddenly you think you would be much better going back to your day job where you even sort of know what you are doing!

    There are a number of internet sites such as
    http://www.writeattitude.net/
    to help work through that point.

    As for critics?
    How does that expression go re writing from the heart, writing your passion?
    The people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.

    The only people who matter are those who are willing to hand over their hard earned cash, in many cases, very hard earned, so that they can hold the book you have written in their hands.
    And that is special.
    Because only you can write those words in that book and give that person pleasure.
    That is your relationship with the reader- and you can only do that if you love what you write.
    I know this is hard. In a strange way it is reassuring to the rest of us writers that a bestselling author should still hear the crows. Find your son’s shotgun/rifle.
    And shoot the little **** down.

  13. BladeOmega says:

    I picked up Gravity because I saw Stephen King’s recommendation on the cover. I loved it, and I’ve loved each of your books that I’ve read since. I haven’t read everything yet, but I will eventually.

    If you stopped writing, it would break my heart. You don’t want to break my heart, do you?

  14. struggler says:

    You’ve written some scary stories in your time, Tess, but the first half of this blog scared the crap out of me. You’re giving up???

    Then…….ahhh, a happy ending.

    Whatever you feel, whatever those sycophantic bottom-feeders at Pea-Brain Weekly may say, DO NOT give up telling stories, because you are NEEDED. The thought that THE BONE GARDEN could be your last novel is scarier than anything you have ever written! That is an EVIL THREAT and you have upset thousands of fans with your despair! :):):)

    Please, just keep on doing what you do and don’t change a thing

  15. tuttle says:

    Tess, Tess, Tess…..

    Its the bottom line that matters.
    SALES—$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
    Did it get a second or third printing?
    Is the paperback selling above the publishers expectations?

    These are the things that matter.

    Of course, a good review from a respected (until now ha ha)trade magazine sure helps.

    But maybe that particular reviewer just had a bad day when he or she read it and they had just gotten done reading ten really bad books and your GOOD one was all blurry when they read it.

    Your still here and your faithful fans are buying the books.

    Thats far, far more then many, many other writers will have in a lifetime.

    You’re a lucky person
    Be thankful
    (and maybe go out back and burn that copy of Publishers Weekly!)

  16. dsurrett says:

    Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”
    Tess, I’m glad you write books that are exciting and fun to read regardless of what the critics say. Maybe I’m just simple (like a Big Mac and fries) but the last time I started a “literary masterpiece” I put it aside after my fourth nap.
    Your new releases are always automatic purchases for me. Why? Because your books rock!!!
    Keep up the great work!

  17. Sue says:

    Stupid critics. I’m sorry, but you need to ignore the critics and listen to the fans. LOVED it. Seriously.

  18. KenLandry67 says:

    King has written many books.
    PW has written What?
    King praises you, he knows a good writer.
    PW slams you, they are critics, not writers.
    Listen to your fans and look at your book sales, they are the true indicator of how good you are, not some critic who has written nothing but reviews.

    Keep up the good work doc, waiting for the next book.

  19. Kyle K. says:

    Well, from what I hear, Kirkus is a much better source for reviews than PW…

    It all goes back to what Matthew Pearl was saying, doesn’t it? Some critics are just frustrated wannabe writers, and here you are, uber-successful, and there they are, writing reviews for PW.

    As everyone keeps saying, it’s not what the critics say with their pens, it’s what the readers say with their wallets! Base your opinion of yourself on what WE say, those of us who actually read your books for pleasure and not for the sole purpose of picking it apart line-by-line.

    Cheer up, Doll! :)

  20. mainekitten says:

    Tess,
    Just look at your track record with writing and how successful you have been over and over again – that speaks volumes! Just remember, the critics are paid to criticize – plain and simple – and not always constructively I might add. That’s why I never heed their advice on anything, be it books or movies. I’d rather listen to what other readers might say about a particular book over that of a critic.

    Ask yourself honestly – could that particular critic sit down and tell a story as well as you do? Consistently? Book after book – year after year? Highly doubtful! I’d like to see them attempt it.

    We’re all anxiously waiting for The Bone Garden and I’m certain it’s going to be another winner for you and for us fans – and that’s all that really matters.

    Don’t let them get you down … you know deep down that you’ve written great stories – believe in yourself because we sure do!

    Hugs! :D

  21. l.c.mccabe says:

    Tess,

    A good friend of mine has the book “Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections” edited by Bill Henderson and André Bernard on his reference shelf. He leafs through it whenever he gets a bad review or a nasty rejection letter.

    It helps to remind him that no writer is immune from criticism, and sometimes it is unjust, unwarranted, and unkind criticism.

    Here’s an example:

    http://tinyurl.com/298ys6

    “I’m at a loss to explain why people hold Miss (Jane) Austen’s novel at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched or narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer…is marriageableness…suicide is more respectable.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal 1861

    Seeing as he’s a character in your forthcoming novel, I thought you might enjoy reading that quote.

    As for PW…how many different people write those reviews? And is there any way to tell who wrote any of them? I cannot tell via the page on Amazon.com and for me it seems like an anonymous type of thing that intends to be self-important to the point of self-aggrandizement.

    Honestly, when it comes to movie critics I have over the years determined which ones I pay closer attention to depending on how close in synch my tastes are to them. I don’t just look at which newspaper is their employer, but the individual names.

    For all I know, there could be twenty different reviewers at PW and depending on the luck of the draw as to who gets assigned a book would determine whether it gets praised or savaged depending on the critic’s individual preferences and prejudices. I cannot develop any sense of trust with what is in essence anonymous critiques.

    It reminds me of the restaurant critic Anton Ego in “Ratatoille” who doesn’t seem to like food.

    Don’t worry about trying to please entities who are insistent on withholding their approval.

    Write for yourself, write to please your inner muse and the rest will follow. As it has.

    Oh, and BTW, should you decide to give up following your donkeys around and you chose to move back to California to make wine as a diversion…I recommend Sonoma County over Napa County. As Tommy Smothers noted comedian and now winemaker is wont to say, “Sonoma makes wine. Napa makes…auto parts!”

    Besides that, we have the gorgeous rugged Pacific coast as well.

    Take it easy and don’t let the turkeys get you down. Just think, many of those critics are probably working on their own version of The Great American Novel but after ten years and twenty revisions, it still unfinished.

    Linda

  22. Tess says:

    Linda,
    PW reviews are anonymous and always have been.

    As for the winemaking dream — I actually do have some grape-worthy land I’m going to plant next spring, right here in maine!

  23. joe bernstein says:

    i find reviews are often completely out of whack with my viewing/reading experience-sometimes i see a great(to me)film or read a really good book and then read a mediocre review and i think-did we both watch/read the same thing?hey tess do you think that cretin patrick anderson is secretly writing for PW?actually i’never read PW or kirkus for that matter

  24. What is this, Lynch-a-Critic Day? :)

  25. MrsDidi says:

    Completely agree with Kyle K.
    Chin up1

  26. JA Konrath says:

    Life would be pretty boring if everyone liked you.

  27. Tess says:

    David,
    we only lynch the critics who lynch us first!

  28. WJS says:

    This is a quote from Amazon.com’s Editorial Review on the Bone Garden’s: “At the start of this disappointing stand-alone thriller from bestseller Gerritsen (The Mephisto Club), 38-year-old divorcée Julia Hamill discovers a skeleton buried in the garden of the Boston house she’s just moved into; the ring found with the remains was in fashion in the 1830s, the fractured bones suggest murder. Flashback to 1830: medical student Norris Marshall, an outcast among his wealthier classmates, meets Rose Connolly in a Boston maternity ward, where Rose’s sister recently died of childbirth fever. When several gutted bodies turn up in deserted alleyways, Rose and Norris are the only ones to catch a glimpse of the killer, dubbed the West End Reaper. Norris, Rose and Norris’s fellow student, Oliver Wendell Holmes, race to uncover the truth behind the slayings, which will remind many of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. In the present, Julia is able to trace their progress with the help of a relative of the house’s former owner. Unfortunately, neither the present nor the historical story line maintains the suspense necessary for a whodunit spanning several generations. (Sept.)
    Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.”

    That quote makes me sick to my stomach, and it is one of the worst written ‘so-called-reviews’ I have ever seen. It doesn’t seem right as the way you wrote your own and telling us what you have written. The industry can be full of idiots sometime.

    -sigh- No wonder why I love to stay with the source like you, Tess. There are not very many authors out there who would blog actively and let us know how wonderful things are.

    ^_^ Take care and talk to you later!
    -Josh Simpson

  29. childofthewilderness says:

    critics do matter, yes, when you have to earn money. but essentially, you write for yourself, right? not for cash or glory or anyone else? i guess you should just keep that in mind, and singlemindedly do what you yourself really want. besides, i don’t want you to retire, not anytime soon ):

  30. ladyesq82104 says:

    I just attended the mystery writer’s workshop in Camden, and while the writers present were impressive, you were clearly the heavyweight there. I wish I had read your books previously because now I’m hooked, and I feel like I’ve missed out on your books for a long time. I’m reading Harvest, which is a wonderful book. It is so well written – the plot is intense, the prose flows and we REALLY get to know the characters. I just finished a John Grisham book and I felt as if I never got to know the main character. Your main character’s personality traits were so clear after only a few chapters.

    You gave advice at Camden to aspiring writers to keep at it. You are an inspiration for lots of aspiring writers, myself included. As a creative writing major years ago, I remember putting up with critiques from professors who weren’t themselves published, and who had no tolerance for a “voice” that was different from their own. Although I imagine you had a different major in college so that you could go to med school, I almost gave up back then too. I obviously pursued a different field but used my writing in the legal field. Now I want to re-enter the writer’s world and I certainly am inspired by you. Forget about PW…the books I read, which are mostly thrillers or legal thrillers, are almost ALWAYS panned by PW. In fact, I usually see PW giving only lukewarm reviews at best, only to have Kirkus right below it raving about it. So, forget about it…look what you have accomplished! I can’t wait to read your new book and attend a local signing. I think we all re-evaluate our professions at one time or another…but your fans will tell you, you’re a fabulous writer, and don’t let any “reviewer” tell you otherwise.
    Ronna

  31. Tess says:

    ladyesq, thank you so much for the nice comment! I’m glad you enjoyed the mystery panel in Camden. Some great writers on that panel –and every one of us had something different to say!

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