Wednesday, June 1, 2016

When Beta Readers Attack

     There comes a time in every author's life and career in which a simple beta reading of their book, whether still in draft or ritualized in print, becomes an ordeal. It can be even that the reading and subsequent vague criticism can even turn personal and end in the termination of the relationship itself, if there was one. This is what's just happened to me.
     I got a slightly strange email last night to which I didn't bother responding until this morning. But it was from a former friend of mine who'd taken me to task for "taking liberties with words" and cited the use of the word "Neanderthal" in Gods of Our Fathers as the only example she'd given me.
     While the phrase "taking liberties with words" is a cryptic one, I had as my sole context her one example of how I'd used an anachronistic word that, I learned on examination, hadn't been coined until two years after GOOF takes place in 1854. So I good-naturedly said, "So sue me", assuming no one reading my book, aside from anal-retentive former editors and amateur historians would know the provenance of the word "Neanderthal." So I asked her for more examples of words I'd erroneously used.
     Now, before I go on, I ought to inform anyone reading this that while Gods of Our Fathers took me less than three and a half months to research, draft and edit, in that short space of  time I'd done a tremendous amount of research into the syntax and slang of the mid 19th century as well as that of the earliest history of the Boston Police Department, the Anthony Burns affair and the slave trade and Underground Railroad in general, the biographies of the historical principles such as John Brown and countless other topics. When confused about the date of origin of a certain word, I'd look it up online and usually an excellent online resource such as Webster's or will give one, among other things, the origin and provenance of the word in question.
     So the relatively brief amount of time I'd spent on my novel is in no way a reflection of the diligence and quality of my scholarship. I can write and research at an exceedingly rapid pace and Gods of Our Fathers' nearly 118,000 words and all the attendant research behind it proceeded at a record pace.
     So, after my friend had done Mrs. JP and me a kind turn, I offered to send her a copy of this novel and she unhesitatingly said yes. So I mailed it off a couple of months ago and she'd just gotten around to reading it. Prior to last night, she said she was enjoying it, moreso than Tatterdemalion. I said something on the order of I wished my next to last book would take off with readers as I'd hoped as, by contrast, I'd sweated and labored over that title for almost two and a half years. But there's no accounting for taste.
     Then the trouble started this morning. OK, I asked, since you're a former editor, I'll assume you're prepared to back up your allegations and inform me which words don't belong in 1854. If I find out they don't, I'll make the necessary amendments in a future edition and be grateful to you for the shoutout.
     But, I cautioned, without specifics, I have no starting point and if one indicts an author, one must do two things: Be specific in your charges and be prepared to back them up. This was met with furious charges of my being an egotistical writer who is too thin-skinned to entertain criticism.
     Asking for specifics and proof of my transgressions has nothing whatsoever to do with ego and even less to do with hubris. If someone spots howlers in one's book, then the author should in all fairness vet these claims then make the necessary adjustments. Asking for specific examples and for the beta reader to be prepared to back them up is a very reasonable request.
     I'd tried reasoning with her that when writing a book taking place in the mid 19th century, some balance needs to be struck between the authentic and accessible. A book written entirely in mid 19th century English isn't likely to sell big unless it's written by a really big name. So, while authenticity that aids Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" is always a good thing to keep in mind, accessible English for a modern reader is at least if not more important than authenticity. I felt I'd struck that balance between the two in my last two novels.
     I then went on to cite as extremes on either side Lyndsay Faye, whose Timothy Wilde trilogy is so laden with mid 19th century patter flash all three books require a glossary so the poor reader can translate what the characters are saying. Troy Soos, on the other hand, didn't provide for a very immersive experience in his Micky Rawlings and Marshall Webb series and simply wrote his narrative and dialogue in modern English.
     Caleb Carr, on the other hand, masterfully addressed both issues with pitch perfect balance and I use that as my template when writing my own historical thrillers.
     In the end, she had taken her case public, not that anyone cares, I'm sure, on her blog (I will not provide a link as it's just pseudo-intellectual farting in the wind) and she had informed all who'd care to read that she has blocked my email and phone numbers.
     I don't know what happened but whoever had kidnapped my old friend and replaced her with this pod person is not at all amusing and I wish they'd bring her back. I do not like this version of my former friend. I know she has a lot on her plate but dealing with the emotional fallout of that angst is something I do not need as I, too, have a lot on my plate.


At June 2, 2016 at 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one question: Where the hell do you get off anyway?

Your friend does you a kindness (I assume she gave you money because you’re a broke ass whose always begging for money and crying about being on the verge of eviction) and also read your book – she comes back with some mild feedback and you go into an apoplectic rage that is usually reserved for your imaginary enemies.

I’m dumbfounded – I’ve seen you go off on dozens of people over the years but this person was your friend. And you’re willing to end a friendship over a disagreement about the word "Neanderthal.” Considering that it took her more than a few hours to read your book, (something very very few people have done) you should say “Thank You” not “Fuck You.” Do you not have an ounce of courtesy or dignity in your body?

No wonder you’re fucking miserable. I would be too if I chased off every reader who deigned to slog through my novels with a stick because I can’t handle feedback or criticism. And you can’t handle it – this post is proof.

Have you ever considered that it’s your antisocial, childish behavior that might be at the center of why you can’t seem to get anywhere in life? Do you think a publisher or an agent who reads your blog would ever want to do business with someone who writes hit-pieces on his readers/friends? My guess is that you’ve probably lost out on more than a few opportunities because people come here and see you throwing a temper tantrum like a 4-year-old.

You’re an asshole - grow up!

At June 2, 2016 at 7:07 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Since you're obvious a Chadwick troll who's already posted or attempted to post comments here before, consider yourself honored that I've deigned to post your latest deathless screed.

First off, you're lacking all the context and have in your possession whatever context I saw fit to give. Obviously, since you're bound and determined to find me at fault with everything going on in my life and unconditionally despise me (making me wonder why you're stalking me through my blog), then I guess trying to appeal to your (ha ha) common sense is so much farting in the wind.

Secondly, in the interests of fairness, I feel it necessary that that this former friend was the one who'd committed a aeries of big No Nos thusly:

1) Taking a private email exchange public.
2) Telling me I had committed several errors by "taking liberties with words" then not telling me when asked what those words were.
3) Not being prepared to back up her allegations and hysterically venting her every pent up frustration with me, long-simmering issues she'd neither given me the time nor the means to address.
4) Accepting a book sent by friend to another then acting in the capacity of a editor without, again, making any specific and vettable complaints.

Your insistence on painting me rather than the true offender as some out of control rage monster shows me you would probably be better situated in a rubber room somewhere painting murals with your own fecal matter. I do not suppose even providing a link to her pseudo-intellectual blog post would help in the interests of context as you are bound and determined to believe every single bad thing about me and insisting that I and I alone am responsible for all the ills in my life.

You do not know me nor my former friend who had abruptly turned on me for mysterious reasons that have hardly been adequately articulated. You did not read her stunningly clueless blog post, the email exchange that precipitated it not our personal history. It was she and not I who had terminate the friendship, which is in itself an indictment on the miserable state of your reading comprehension skills.

So that means your trolling and stalking of me through this blog is plainly a miserable experience, making you something of a masochist, which makes me wonder how and why the nurses and orderlies still grant you internet access. And my own public response wasn't so much an act of viciousness and retribution as it was an expression of hurt and being wounded by someone I thought I could trust. I showed a tremendous amount of restraint, moreso than she had shown to me in her pewling screed which likens reading my novel to something akin to Kant's "whip of duty."

So if I'm such a loatheome human being, then I have to ask, Why do you keep coming back and embarrassing yourself with these senseless and nonsensical attempts at intelligible writing in which you pretend to speak for and take the side of people you do not know nor ever will know?

At June 3, 2016 at 1:59 AM, Anonymous Comrade Rutherford said...

This event that JP writes about, and the comment above willfully misconstrue the situation, I can see how too contrite of an email could be misunderstood, but JP's point is indeed valid and not inflammatory. These reactions are all projection by the readers, his old friend and the anonymous commenter here.

Indeed, when I had a couple comments about details of the revolver in 'Sons…' JP was happy to receive them. He did ask how I knew what I was talking about and we had a nice discussion of early Colt revolvers, and JP quickly made a few edits for the next printing. No vitriol, no 'apoplectic rage'. Again, that's all baggage carried by others and painted onto JP without cause.

I don't see how 'please be detailed and show me why you know what you're talking about' rises to any of this at all.


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