"In these pages many mysteries are hinted at.
What if you come to understand one of them?"

"Words let water from an unseen, infinite ocean
Come into this place as energy for the dying and even the dead."

"Bored onlookers, but with such Light in our eyes!
As we read this book, the jewel-lights intensify."

- Rumi

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pride and the writing life.

Every so often, after I have a really good storytelling show, after I've passed my bag around (I use a bag rather than a hat because the bag holds more money) and sold some books, I'll get a straggler who wants to speak to me a bit longer than telling me they liked my show. I've learned to spot them fairly easily: they are in their late teens or early twenties, they usually have a partial costume or have purchased a few accessories from their day at the faire, but most telling is that little glimmer in their eyes - a mix of awe and hope. The conversation goes usually goes like this.

Them: "Do you really do this for a living."
Me: "Yes, even with a college education, this is my primary source of income."
Them: "Wow. I'd love to be able to do something like this. How do you get started?"
Me: I sigh. (I can't help it. I don't mean to, but I almost always do.) "You really want to know what you have to do to do something like this for a living?"
Them: "Yes oh master of the stage! Share with me your sacred knowledge of how to be awesome and not have to get a real job."

It's not a surprise. It goes like this every time, and every time I give them the same little speech I've worked out. It goes something like this.

"In order to do what I do, you have to take every little bit of pride and self-worth, cuddle that up nice and gentle like, put it in a nice little cradle, then smother every last shred of pride you possess." (At this point the look of awe and hope transforms magically to shook, confusion, and sorrow.) "Because you've seen a really good show. You saw me make a decent bit of cash. What you haven't seen are the shows where it's raining, or the promoter really didn't advertise, and you're hoping that by the end of the weekend, after totally all of your shows together, you can afford to eat and get enough gas to get home, never mind paying the bills this month. If you have any pride, you won't make it through those times to the good shows like this one."

I bring that up, because I'm discovering the same thing is true of my writing career. Now that I'm having some modicum of success as an Indie writer, people on various social networking sites and other places are starting to ask me the same thing about this Indie writing thing with the same awe and hope I get from my storytelling shows. They see my books sometimes creep onto Amazon's best seller lists, my four and five star reviews, and hear me talk about how excited I am to be a writer and that now I'm starting to pay some of the bills through that (and even better, pay for my airsoft habit.) They don't see me fretting over my sales reports from November 2011 (my worst month by far - I think I managed a tank of gas from that royalty check...maybe.) They don't see me wanting to scream at the world around me so I can get the next book in the series done before I burn out on the story so I can get to the one I'm REALLY excited about. AND they really don't know what it's like to get a one star review. Well, in all fairness, I didn't know what that was like until earlier today. Wow... what a kick in the teeth... all the way into my gut.

Here's my very first one star review for First Chosen on Amazon, titled: Gallowglass can write but this is a poor effort.
First, anyone who selects a Christopher Stasheff character (Warlocks of Gramayre)as a nom de plume gets a nod of approval from me. Second, anyone who can craft a young adult gem of a story like the "Dragon Bone Flute" gets moved onto "my one to watch" list. The Dragon Bone Flute was truly excellent, a novella written in a flavour of Ursala K Leguin's Wizard of Earthsea sagas.
So based on the novella and the overwhelming good reviews I left better judgment behind and bought "First Chosen" without reading the sample chapter. Big mistake - do not trust simpleton reviewers - this is truly awful.
First chosen is adolescent dreck. I forgive the spelling mistakes; you cannot expect much with self-published works but I can barely believe this was written by the same author as "Dragon Bone Flute". The world is poorly conceived and unbalanced (you either want to be capable of saying "miracles" or you might as well cut your own throat because you're cannon fodder), the characters are written to be stupid and they act inconsistently, the action scenes are not well written and the bad guys are juvenile sex-addicts. Oh and "strong-willed" noble women who hate their captors will apparently willingly perform sex acts on common guards rather than get a little chilly. Worse, "First Chosen" isn't a novel. It doesn't have a identifiable progression.Sigh. This was so obviously written by/for teeanage boys.
Oh well I guess for every "Wool" or "Dark Angel" you will get 10-15 "First Chosen".My advice to the author is to continue plying his trade in novellas until her gets good enough to go for another novel.
First off: I'd like to thank K. Griffen "K." for several things: first, being passionate enough about First Chosen that he took the time to write this review; second, actually finishing the book, or at least most of it, because he cites some things that happen pretty late in the book; third, giving a shout out to "The Dragon Bone Flute," to prove that he's not just one of those reviewers who goes around slamming Indie authors. (There's a lot of those.) In a way, I'm flattered that "K." put so much effort into this review, especially considering how little he liked the story.

A few points I'd like to make:

One: I'm not using a nom de plume. The name is actually Gallowglas. (Note the single "s" at the end of my name. "K." is not the first critical reviewer to make this mistake.) This is not the first time I've been asked about or compared to the Stasheff books - it's a rare name, but its really mine, the same one that's on my driver's licence and passport.

Two: There wasn't any need for "K." to belittle the other reviewers who enjoyed First Chosenmore than he did. That's just uncalled for, even if "K." didn't agree with their experience of the book.

Other than that, "K." is entitled to his or her opinion of First Chosen. I'm the first to admit, it's not for everyone. Whenever anyone asked me where they should start, I try my best to make sure they are going to enjoy First Chosen before recommending it.

Back to my original point: If I was all wrapped up in my pride and sense of self worth as a writer, this one star review might have ruined my day, if not my week or month. I know writers who do kind of freak out at those one and two star reviews, and when those writers get those kinds of reviews, it takes them weeks to get back into the rhythm of writing again.

Pride, it'll get you every time. It'll suck you down at the first cast stone. Pride is fleeting.

On the other side of the coin, confidence will get you through those hard times. Confidence in your abilities, talents, and that you can make the most of the next opportunity. Confidence is what makes you turn away from that one bad review and remember all the good ones, all the people who enjoyed reading your book, and how much fun you had in the crafting of it. When I talk about smothering that pride and killing it dead, you have to do it with your confidence. I don't tell that to the young men and women who come up to me at the end of my shows, because I'm pretty sure they won't understand. Heck, I'm not even sure if I could truly articulate the difference between having pride and having confidence; however, I truly believe there is an utter and profound difference between the two, and that if you have confidence, true confidence, then pride mostly goes away.

One last time, I'd like to thank "K." for his or her passionate review of First Chosen. I'm hoping to see him or her review "The Dragon Bone Flute" sometime soon, because I'd like to see the other side of the coin from what he/she gave me today. Also, in the aftermath of reading that review and thinking about it all day, I managed to learn something important about myself as a writer. I actually can roll with those things that kick my teeth in down to my gut, dust myself off, and get back to writing. I can't wait to see what "K." thinks of Dead Weightwhen it comes out.


  1. Interesting that he hated the book but still apparently read the entire thing...I usually know after a couple of chapters whether something is worth reading! When I was a teenager I sent my best story to Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine. It was rejected of course, but I received a handwritten letter from the editor saying that he considered buying the story but the plot was not very original, and he encouraged me to send more of my work. For reasons I have regretted ever since, I never wrote another word. You are lucky enough to make a living doing what you love and nobody should ever influence your work or vision. I haven't read this book yet so I can't give an opinion on it, but it is on my list.

    1. Thanks for the comment Steve. Getting a hand-written note from a magazine editor is a pretty big deal. I have some personalized rejection letters from George Scithers from Weird Tales, so I know what that's like. He gave me some great advice, and that went a long way to keeping me writing. Sorry to hear you haven't written since. It's never too late to start up again. Hope you enjoy First Chosen.

  2. Having been a reviewer for a number of years I would say that is far from a professional review and I have no daught that a professional site would not have allowed it on their site.
    And as a reviewer I have only ever reviewed 1 book poor enough to be given a 1rating... I am not ashamed to say I begged my boss not to make me finish the book so I agree with Steve if you really don't like a book that much why not just stop reading it.

    On a brighter note it is the only book if yours I have read and I loved it. I can't wait for the next installment.

  3. Thanks for chiming in Hollie. I'm really glad you enjoyed ~First Chosen~. As I said, it's not for everyone, just like George RR Martin and Laurel K Hamilton aren't for everyone. If you've only read ~First Chosen~, then I'm happy to tell you, TEARS OF RAGE book 2, ~Once We Were Like Wolves~ is out and book 3, ~Arms of the Storm~ is coming very soon.

  4. I needed this so much!! Very apropos!


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