A writer, any writer, has a weird relationship with the critics. No matter how often we insist that we write for ourselves alone, we’re all of us constantly compelled (however surreptitiously) to find out whether the press has validated our talents or not. I’ve never known a writer this wasn’t true of … never known a writer who couldn’t be plunged into the blackest despair by a bad review or who wouldn’t feel elated over a good one. I don’t care how healthy the person’s ego, how centered he or she appears to be. It never fails. Reviews are the mirrors in which we constantly check ourselves. And the Internet only ramps these inclinations up a notch. Make that several notches. Years ago, a writer only heard from the public if someone at a cocktail party happened to recognize you from a television interview. Now everyone – and I mean everyone – has a platform from which to declaim their opinions. Sometimes this can be more than a bit daunting.
But I’ve been lucky. Often, the comments from readers have been just as gratifying as the professional critiques, and even the negative remarks have proved oddly satisfying. (I still want “this book is so stupid I can’t even understand it” on a t-shirt.) For instance, the reviews for my novel WILLY have been tremendously stirring. [You can find quotes here: http://www.dunbarauthor.com/page11.html. They go on for pages.] But it’s the reader comments, often quite profound and insightful – at sites like Amazon and Goodreads – that have elicited the strongest emotional responses from me. In a world where artists perpetually struggle against terrible odds, almost always for so little in the way of reward, knowing that readers appreciate your work can be all that keeps a writer going.
I believe I'd pretty much lost faith in WILLY (plus a few other things) by the time the book came out, and I wasn't expecting much in the way of support, certainly not from within the genre. It's such a subtle work. I figured the horror critics, if they bothered to acknowledge the book at all, would simply blast it for being “too literary,” a cardinal sin apparently, and the book would sink out of sight. That's not the way it's worked out. I've wound up feeling both humbled – or perhaps I mean "chastened" – and inspired by the number of reviewers who have championed the novel. I'm very grateful.
And it gets better. With reviews for WILLY still showing up, the new edition of MARTYRS & MONSTERS is already creating an impact of its own. Not that the collection didn’t do well in its earlier edition – it did, and in spades, with critics apparently vying to outdo each other in the use of superlatives. (Any writer who claims not to love hearing “masterpiece” and “genius” over and over is lying.) But new reviews continue to surface, all of them incredibly positive, and – again – the comments from readers have also been quite moving … often in the most unexpected ways. This latest edition of MARTYRS & MONSTERS from Uninvited Books restores some mangled text, corrects various copyediting and proofreading errors and adds some new material.
Yes, I’ve been fortunate. And aren’t the best relationships always at least a little weird?