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Wednesday Writing: How to Be Good?!

June 1, 2011

So about two weeks from when this posts, I ignited a mini shitstorm by taking a “book reviewer” to task over giving Slaughterhouse V 2 stars because she didn’t GET it.  Of course I did it in my usual not-so-nice way.

This begs the question for me:  how can I be good?  How can I not be a grumpy bulldog?  Because when it comes time to market a book, you really can’t do that, though maybe James Frey is trying that to some extent.  No, you’re supposed to go around nodding and smiling politely (or the online equivalents of that) and answering dumb questions in “interviews” without gagging.

It reminds me of that scene in “Bull Durham” where veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) takes rookie pitcher Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) aside on a bus ride and explains to him all the cliches to use in interviews.  Sayings like “I just want to help the ball club” that are pretty much still in use today.  Not just in baseball but in every sport.  Whenever a hockey player comes back from injury and a “reporter” asks him about how he feels he says, “I’m just trying to play a simple game and help my teammates.”  I mean without fail they always say something about a “simple game.”

So what are the literary equivalents?  When I go to someone’s blog and they give 2 stars to a classic book, what can I say that won’t have an angry mob storming my blog the next day?  Should I just say “Thanks for sharing”?  That’s what people on Gather do, as I’m sure Mr. Pagel knows.  Should I say, “That was a really interesting post”?

I need to find this out so when it comes time to start marketing I don’t shoot myself in the foot or burn more bridges.  (Probably have to use an assumed name now despite my previous aversion to such a strategy.)  How can I go from grumpy bulldog to nice bulldog?  Or maybe I should go from a bulldog to a golden retriever; they’re usually nice, right?  (Except if they get rabies like Old Yeller.)

I think part of it is:

  1. Don’t call people assholes, morons, idiots, etc.
  2. Don’t make snarky references to Disney movies
  3. Don’t talk about fight club…wait that should be #1

Now I’m on my way!

Friday Flix:  The Joneses and guerilla marketing.

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15 Comments
  1. Yeah, yanno it’s really just not even worth it to leave negative remarks. I simply skip over posts that I strongly disagree with because of this. Which is why I didn’t respond to your post the other day. 😉 I think some snark is ok on bloggers you know well enough, but to leave overly snarky or negative comments on others’ blogs is really not a good idea.
    So my two cents (since you asked) is to follow that old adage: when you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
    And FYI, I comment only on posts that strike me as worth commenting, and usually those who comment on my own blog are my first choices, merely out of ease. I’ll add my pic and follow any decent blog out there if it helps support someone who legitimately wants to be heard. But I only read and leave comments when the post resonates with me. Either that or I missed the post altogether.

    BTW… love the Fight Club reference. 🙂

  2. “So the first rule of Nice Club…”

    Why be “nice?” Some things are just stupid, and some people deserve criticism. I enjoy seeing the occasional snarky remark way more than “Thanks for sharing” or “TL/DR”. I once, in fact, turned a would-be mean comment on The Best Of Everything into an entire post that made fun of the woman… although I only rarely do that because I don’t want people to be afraid to leave comments.

    The hardest part of debate is learning to disagree without belittling; I have to do that all the time in my day job, where I’m constantly confronted with opposing counsel who think I’m an idiot (they’re ALMOST NEVER right.)(ALMOST never.)

    So you can tell Slaughterhouse-V reviewer that she was wrong, without belittling her; just don’t take it too far into “everybody’s entitled to their opinion”-land, or “opinions can’t be wrong”-ville.

    And if you’re a writer and someone says something stupid, say something about that. It worked for Jonathan Franzen, and he’s a “writer.”

    • I’m thinking in general people don’t want others to disagree with them. So probably I should just get real good at nodding and saying, “What a great idea!” That’s how you become popular! (And unlike what your parents, TV, etc. might have said, popularity is all that matters.)

  3. As long as you’re concerned about money, you will have to play nice. I guess it comes down to how much the dollar means to you. Personally, since nothing is happening in my life (my only income comes from my job) I made the decision to just say what I want rather than hold my breath for fictional dollars that may someday be mine. I only have one life to live (atheism does that to you)…when I die, I’m just dust anyway with no afterlife. I’m going to do whatever I want to in this life to make sure that I have no regrets when I kick the bucket.

    • I’m not going to say much on this now because that’s the subject of June 15th’s entry.

  4. Ethan Cooper permalink

    Hi BJ,

    Perhaps you also could use sports cliches to make your point. When writing about “Slaughterhouse Five”, you might say that Vonnegut “pitched a gem,” “can really throw some heat,” or “has “good mechanics.”

    As criticism, you might say a reviewer “uncorked a wild pitch” or “was caught napping.” If you really wanted to get nasty, you might try “stick a fork in him–he’s done.”

    Anyway, you get the idea. Don’t swing for the fences. Instead, you got to manufacture runs, one at a time. You can’t steal first base, after all.

    Coop

  5. Be as big an ass as you want. I think there has been some backlash against authors that are overtly political, or homophobic, or whatever. But just for being an all round dick? I think it just adds to your perceived genius.

  6. Ethan Cooper permalink

    I agree. Show some heat. Swing for the fence. It’s outa herre!

    • You know the problem is it’s almost all guys responding to this. We need to hear what the chicks have to say.

  7. Well, there’s that golden rule thing to think about…you know, treat others as you’d like to be treated.

    Snark can be comical, but it is harsh, especially to sensitive folk.

    I’m not telling you to change (that would be your choice), however, there is a variety of ways to make your point, from the fluffy nicey-nicey, to the inflammatory bitch slap, to somewhere in the middle (tactful, with a mixture of positives and recommendations).

    One thing I’ve noted about the writing community, is that there’s a skewed perception toward being as positive as possible. I think it represents a defense mechanism against all the rejection and slash and burn critting that goes on.

    On the other hand, I hear Absolute Write can get pretty, um, gritty. Snark may be applauded there. (I don’t know, cuz I don’t frequent that forum, LOL!)

    Anyway, I don’t need to lecture you. I’m sure you know how to handle yourself. 😉

    • There’s the perspective I needed: a chick and a psychologist!

      That’s an interesting theory about people overcompensating for rejections by agents/editors by being all Susie Sunshine on blogs and such. I think too it’s just that all writers are sensitive and most are horribly neurotic egomaniacs–especially me!–who can’t realize that in the grand scheme of things they’re nobodies who don’t mean shit.

      And really you should have seen Writers.net back in the day. Snark abounded! Especially from yours truly. But I guess now it’s time to put snarky things away and put on my happy face!

      • Susie Sunshine, hahaha! I’d like to see a picture of you posing like that. 😉

  8. I think it’s fine to say what you really feel as long as you make it known that it’s just your opinion. So instead of going off on someone for their review, you could tell them “that’s an interesting take, though I do feel that sometimes you have to look past your confusion or your feelings for the subject matter and consider the quality of writing. Vonnegut…..” etc, etc. Then, the other person doesnt feel attacked and all is well.

    ❤ Gina Blechman

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