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In a recent goodreads review of an anthology featuring a story of mine, in which the reviewer railed against unresolved mystery in fiction, my piece was singled out as 'the worst offender'. I can live with that: I certainly likes me some unresolved mysteries, unreliable narrators, open ends. But then the story was called 'sloppy'. This stung. Since I (like most writers, I'd like to believe) labour over every word and sentence and semi-colon until my brain hurts, and have never sold anything that I felt was rushed or that I wasn't immensely proud of, my first reaction was, naturally, anger. Sloppy?

But not many good things can come from anger, so a deep breath was taken, and another.

I've read numerous thumbs-down reviews of books that were so wondrous to me that they changed my life, and I know the truth in one man's meat (or woman's) is another's poison. Conversely, I have hated books that everyone else seems to love.

Iain Bank's first novel, The Wasp Factory, was so badly panned that, when it finally caught on, the first few pages were a litany of reviews about 'the dark days of publishing' and what a steaming pile of crap the groundbreaking book was.

By far, though, for me, positive reviews outweigh the negative-- yet there certainly have been some doozies over the years. When Cleaner, my second story, was published in 1998, in the venerable Canadian magazine OnSpec, Tangent said: "We get no real clue as to who the characters are, how they got there, or even where the bridge is. The story is all detail and no context -- no drama either. The characters do things, including some theoretically adventurous things, but I couldn't bring myself to care. The illustration outshines the narration." Yowza.

For years, unfortunately, this was the only online review of my fiction. Later, when Phallex Comes Out got published, not only did it get nominated for StorySouth fiction of the year but it promptly drew the ire of an Australian reviewer, who found "Hayward's treatment of the theme of sexuality, for the most part mature and diverse, disappoints where the author reverts to the dubious ideas of women's fantasies of pretended non-consensuality and, in the conclusion, of the final triumph of the phallus over all." Fortunately, to my rescue, a rather scholarly article was later published (again, ironically, in Tangent) refuting this criticism of my 'dubious ideas'. (Called Misunderstanding Sexuality in Brent Hayward's Phallex Comes Out, it can be found here:

Since then, the better part of a decade's gone by, and both novels have appeared, each having the honour of receiving a starred review in Publishers Weekly, among many other accolades from many other venues. However, Filaria and The Fecund have their detractors, too. One reviewer likened Filaria to walking outside on a gloomy day (like that was a bad thing), and another didn't like the chatelaine's attitude in The Fecund.

I often get flak about my endings, or lack of them, as is pointed out.

I've also been screamed at in a workshop for being 'irresponsible', and once an elderly lady in a creative writing class-- who liked to write poems about her garden-- took offense to my own poem about being on the, er, receiving end of oral pleasure while inebriated, said to me, in a very upset voice: You can't write about that!

But you can. You can write what you want. Will others like it? Maybe, if you're lucky, or good at what you do. And if the timing is right. Will everyone like it? No. Not even possible. But write what you like.

Thrilling when others dig your stuff, especially when they post about it, or review on a website or newspaper or magazine; not so thrilling to encounter a less-than-glowing review, but all part of the process.

Hey, just like Tom, my boss, told me recently, apropos of nothing (in a weird dad-type moment): You know, not everyone likes you.


But sloppy?


This week brings to me The Raspberries. Not sure how I hadn't heard of them before, but there you go. Some Beach Boys, some Big Star, some surprisingly great guitar and very effective, almost cheesy vocals...

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I wouldn't trouble yourself overly much over what anybody on Goodreads thinks ... anyone can post a review there, after all, and nobody has to pass a reading comprehension test or reveal personal bias. Which isn't to say that those who have been chosen as professional reviewers by magazine editors are inoculated against being desperately wrong in their opinions, but at least since they have a professional reputation staked to them, they've got something of a motivation to try to be correct.

I know Lucy, but it got me to thinking. Fortunately, I haven't gotten a truly bad review from a professional. Mediocre, yes, but never bad. Thanks for reading and posting and comforting. Hope all is good with you. Take care!

I've been doing pretty well, thanks :)

re: mediocre reviews: on Goodreads, I just got a mediocre star rating for my third novel, which won't be out for another two months. Advance review copies haven't been distributed yet. Near as I can tell, the reviewer is a French teenager who doesn't like the cover.

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