To Thick Skin!

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Thick skin!"

I hear it time and again, from Gary, my dad, my best friends, my agent, my publicists. "You need a thick skin to survive in publishing."

Well, I guess I moisturize way too much because I'm not a rhino.

I do not want this to be a whiny, "Poor Wade," diatribe, but I do need to get something off my chest.

I've been the recipient of many harsh reviews in my literary career, and to say that they didn't sting would be a lie. However, like most writers, I've also been the recipient of searing critiques, ones that go beyond the work at hand to near personal attack, ones that seem intent on not simply reviewing a book but on destroying a career.

Two of the harshest of my life have come this summer. And both, by what I can ascertain, have been by young gay men.

These two reviewers went beyond their duty at hand to mock me, belittle me, hate me. Why? I don't know. When I say, over and over again, that every reader, every reviewer has the right to his or her opinion, I'm not simply saying it as a sort of protective force field. I'm saying it because I mean it, and because I do it, with nearly every book, movie, song, TV show.

Art, of any kind, is highly subjective. And humor is even more so. Still, there must be a level-headedness at play in criticism, and hate seems to have become the new review.

I was thrilled to find I was going to be reviewed in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times. I was not thrilled to learn that my literary ass was going to be handed to me on a platter. The same goes for a certain critic in Lansing, Michigan, who attended one of my signings without identifying himself. He went on, in the Q&A portion after the reading, to ask me very serious questions re: writing, publishing, query letters, agents, and I spent 15 minutes -- with the audience patiently waiting -- to answer his questions, before he stalked out after I was finished, disregarding other people's questions, and then proceeded to trash me in his gay weekly. While I generally do share all reviews with my fans -- I think it's important to show the good, the bad, and the ugly -- I generally do not respond to such critiques. However, after not sleeping last night, I had to address the following:

-I am not David Sedaris. I will never be David Sedaris. I do not aspire to be David Sedaris. Neither does Augusten Burroughs. Or Dan Savage. I love and admire Sedaris' work, but I am a wholly different writer. I am highly emotional, I feel everything, I do not distance myself from my subject matter, I am prone to quips and one-liners, more like Kathy Griffin. For every gay critic to say that every gay humorist is not David Sedaris is like saying Obama is not Bush. Presidents are not the same. Writers are not the same. You are comparing apples and oranges. Just stop, for Christ's sake. It's like saying every actress today is not Clara Bow. Move on already. Read other writers.

-I am not a misogynist. I am not prejudiced. I am not a classicist. What I am is honest. I do not write to make myself more likable, more heroic, more endearing, more lovable, more empathetic, more loyal, kinder, gentler, sweeter. This has become a fatal flaw in memoir writing, I believe: Too many writers woo their audiences by creating a different persona ... i.e., I am the badass motha-fucka. I am the innocent girl next door. I write how I am at the moment, good or bad. But I always write that I am, like we all are, works in progress. The beauty in life, in people, is not the perfection, but the flaws, the foibles, the weaknesses. And when we realize that we are able to grow, change, love, become better. I put myself on the front lines, am brutal to myself as much as others, for a reason: I want to show my flaws as a mirror, so others can see that growth, taking risks, finding love, following one's passion is possible in this life. What I do not appreciate, esp. in the Sun-Times review, is being set up over and over again, excerpts being used without showing the full development of the story that is being relayed. To say I demonstrate classicism against three men I say work at Old Navy is a blatant lie and intended to engender ill will against me/my work when it is not disclosed that this trio is having a three-way in front of me and Gary on a gay beach, and that this is what I say I have to imagine in order not to take part. Puh-lease! And to say that I "didn't exactly save the world" in my former career in private school PR is true ... which is why I wrote a memoir ("Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler") that details exactly this. But you didn't do enough research or reading to know that, or warrant a mention. And to call my a racist, because I say the words "trailer trash" and state the kind of music my neighbor was listening to WITHOUT TELLING READERS how I ended up reaching out to the man, without saying how blessed I realized I was, without sharing how I changed is a disservice.

-I write in short chapters INTENTIONALLY. I am not a third-grader. I am not a moron. I have a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University (sorry it wasn't the U of Chicago, Sun-Times critic). I have always been off-put by 100-page chapters, where I am continually flipping to the end to find out how much further I have to go. This is not an IQ test on my part. I feel it takes as much talent to choose your words carefully, to pare down 20 pages to five, to share a world of wonder and laughter in two sentences rather than 20 pages.

-Review the book in your hands. Do not review the book you wished had been written. Do not unleash your anger and bitterness on my book because the one you've written is not good enough to be published (I mean, come on: Anyone who uses a Calpernia Adams Middle School reference in a YA novel about a boy who wears a dress and then complains that I'm too obvious and corny is a joke.)

So, here's to writing. To reviewing. To thick skin.

Mine, it seems, is slowly, getting thicker. And I honestly believe that is a very sad thing indeed.

21 Comments:

Blogger Blog that Ate Lansing said...

Wade, I read the review in the City Pulse and was appalled. I knew it was the guy sitting behind me that night because I saw his little notebook. I hadn't read the book at that point (only Memoirs of a Boy) but couldn't believe his response was even close to on target. My friend Cassie was with me that night and since she had finished the book by the time I saw the review, I had her post a response. I don't think he even read the book if he was left with kinds of impressions of you and your character that he wrote in the City Pulse. I was hoping somehow you'd miss that one!

Love from Lansing!!

Danielle

July 27, 2009 at 8:24 AM  
Blogger bunny said...

Oh, SNAP! Nice reply.

July 27, 2009 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger Blog that Ate Lansing said...

Sorry I got the title wrong. I was typing fast! America's Boy -- not Memoirs of a Boy. BTW I have truly enjoyed all three of your books and have recommended them to many friends!

July 27, 2009 at 9:28 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Wade do not change a thing. I LOVE your books...have just finished "Confessions" and read "In the City" on the way to the beach this summer. Getting ready to read your first book too. I love your honesty and humor. You don't need any thicker skin, just more honest, well-read, and less jealous reviewers!! I can't wait for your next book!

Meredith

July 28, 2009 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger Wade Rouse said...

Thank you, Danielle, Bunny and Meredith!

I heart my gal-pals!

xx,
Wade

July 28, 2009 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger The Handmade Life said...

I, too, think a thicker skin would be very sad, indeed.

I just finished reading your book and I enjoyed it tremendously.

I was extraordinarily moved by the supportive nature of the relationship you have with Gary.

And, I look forward to reading more about your journey to a more centered, thoughtful and meaningful way of life.

July 28, 2009 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Wade, I say f**k 'em. The thing I picked up in your latest book more than anything else was your self-deprecating humor; how many authors make fun of themselves and put it out there for the world to read? I would put far more stock in the recommendations from the Today Show and the review in USA Today than the reviews from these two jerks that obviously have no sense of humor and come across as envious/jealous.

I just finished reading "America's Boy" and "Confessions of a Prep School Mommy Handler" and enjoyed both immensely. Your first book made me cry; your second made me laugh and cry. Both books were poignant and gave me pause for thought. It's rare that a book touches conflicting emotions, i.e., humor and heartache...yours do just that. I can also see how much you've grown and developed as a writer while reading all three books; impressive to say the least. Stay on your path, dear man; it will lead to wonderful places and things in your life.

BTW, I've decided to share your first two books with my brother who, if you will recall, I forced to buy his own copy of "At Least In The City". AND, I sold two more copies of the book last week. I want a cheer from you for that and you can't use the "two bits, four bits, six bits, a dolla" thing again. LOL

I so love and admire you. You are a brave soul.

Much love to you & Gary,

Jan
(Your BFF from Memphis)

July 29, 2009 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Wade Rouse said...

Jan! I do think I love you. Keep selling ... one day, I will get to Memphis and buy you a drink (or two). I'm jonesing for some Rendezvous BBQ, too ...

I will ask Gary to think of a new cheer, esp. for you (his goal in life is still to be a cheerleader ... think BIG, I tell him!), and will have him post it here. So, keep on the lookout.

Cheer, btw, might contain cussing and misspelled words ... mostly like misspelled curse words.

xx,
Wade

July 29, 2009 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger courtmc said...

I just finished "In the City" and loved it so much I had to order "Confessions". Can't wait to start it. I though your writing was so honest and real. Who else would admit to farting in the grocery store?
And if Gary wants to be a cheerleader, call me. i could use him on my team!

July 30, 2009 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

Wade, by now you don't need anyone to tell you that you are an amazing writer. But I'm going to anyway. I just finished "In the City" and have ordered "America's Boy". I have never laughed harder in my life while reading a book. You have a true gift, and those who belittle it are only bitter. Keep writing and we'll keep reading. Our best to you, Gary, and the "kids"!

Love from the Ozarks,

~Alan & Mary

August 2, 2009 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger pansyfan said...

Wade, my best friend Penny and I absolutely love your writing. Please do not change a thing. you have kept us both laughing all summer with your books, and at a time when we would otherwise not be smiling, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Also, I love small chapters....

August 2, 2009 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger pansyfan said...

Wade, my best friend Penny and I absolutely love your writing. Please do not change a thing. you have kept us both laughing all summer with your books, and at a time when we would otherwise not be smiling, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Also, I love small chapters....

August 2, 2009 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger pansyfan said...

Wade, my best friend Penny and I absolutely love your writing. Please do not change a thing. you have kept us both laughing all summer with your books, and at a time when we would otherwise not be smiling, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Also, I love small chapters....

August 2, 2009 at 6:10 PM  
Blogger Penny said...

Wade,
You have two HUGE fans in Utah (probably more, we don't get out much). In The City had my BFF and I laughing outloud (all alone in our quiet houses) until we cried, texting at all hours of the night about something we just read, and momentarily forgetting our sadness and renewing our faith in people. Your writing is genuine, thoughtful, purposeful and hilarious. What more can you ask for?

August 2, 2009 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Wade Rouse said...

I continue to be blown away by the support, enthusiasm and love of my fans! THANK YOU! And, Gary is still working on a cheer (he's obsessed with building a new sidewalk right now ... ummm, am I helping?) And, shout-out to Utah ... you made me laugh. Send me a Utah-y photo of you with AT LEAST, or AT LEAST in Utah, and we'll post it on the web site and FB fan page. xx, Wade

August 3, 2009 at 6:16 AM  
Blogger LeeLee said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 3, 2009 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

I'm sorry, even if someone has "thick skin", reviews such as the ones you've experienced are bound to hurt. It hurts any time one is criticized for something that they genuinely love. I am all for critiques of books, whether they are positive or negative, but they should never pass a certain limit. There's a lot of great people who could be writing for those newspapers and magazines, and I personally think those companies need to start hiring people with more open minds and cordiality.

August 3, 2009 at 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Wade, is the proper spelling of a particular curse word "dammit" or "damnit"? Just checking so I will know what to look for when Gary writes that new cheer; you know, the one that will have misspelled curse words (we called them cuss words where I grew up). I'm thinking of sending him some really cool pom poms to take to cheerleading camp; what colors does Gary like?

BTW, where is the fan page with photos? I'm dying to see how I stack up to your other fans. If they are mostly old and ugly, I'll be glad to send you a photo of myself. ;-)

I adore you!
Jan

August 3, 2009 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Okay, Wade, I know I shouldn't post so soon after my last post but the more I think about the fan photos, I decided to send you a link and want you to pick out which one of these famous Olin Mills portraits has me in it. You have to have been around in the 70's and 80's to really appreciate these photos as well as the awesome captions. Olin Mills ROCKS.

And, before you get all upset on me, remember that most of these people sent in their own photos! I love to laugh at myself and all of these folks obviously have a wicked sense of humor. I hope this makes you and Gary chuckle a bit.

http://listoftheday.blogspot.com/2007/09/great-olan-mills-photos.html

August 3, 2009 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Ellie said...

Wade, I read "In the City" and love, love, loved it!! So much that I had to order "Confessions" and "America's Boy" from my iPhone because I couldn't wait to get home and log on to Amazon. I have since read both and am eagerly awaiting your next book. Don't let a couple of morons get you down. Hope to see you some day in St. Louis, I am sad that I found you AFTER your last visit to Left Bank Books.

Laurie from St. Louis

August 4, 2009 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger jennjohn said...

Wade

I LOVED all of your books, and was on the waiting list for If I and it came right before my vacation and it was GREAT.

I firmly believe jealousy and insecurity breed the worst critics. A wannabe novelist who wishes he was as good as you.

Keep writing! I love Sedaris but I'll take you over him if I had to choose.

Thanks for the great reading material. I truly appreciate your gift.

August 6, 2009 at 6:53 PM  

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