Outlandish Things Said to Writers, No. 2
Writers share the unique, touching, and sometimes upsetting comments and reviews they received
|Nicholas E. Barron||May 12|
When interviewing writers for Bidwell Hollow, I always ask them to share something outlandish someone’s said about their work. It’s for an occasional segment I call, They Said What?!.
The first edition came out at the end of December. Instead of an interview this week, let’s do another edition of They Said What?!. Enjoy!
I remember once I was slogging through a book and just having a sort of tough writing day. I received an email from a reader saying that I wrote my characters with “tenderness.” It was a boost that I sorely needed that day and have drawn comfort from for many more.
I was contacted by the stepson of Pegeen Guggenheim after he read Costalegre and he said it gave him compassion for a woman he had spent his whole life hating. So that was pretty big!
I’ve received some kind emails from readers of my new book, including someone who said I gave them a way to think of being a writer of faith in a world that feels increasingly distant from, and perhaps skeptical of, belief. It certainly made my day!
At the start of a recent six-week writing class that I teach, I brought in my five novels to pass around. After looking at my author photos through the years, one woman asked me, “Wow, you’ve lost weight since you started! How’d you do it?”
I couldn’t believe that that was the question she was asking me.
“Well, my husband died and then my dad died and I’m a single mom of two kids and really pretty sad and never sit down and don’t really have much of an appetite any more, so that helps,” I answered. That was fun.
I’m in the early stages of receiving reviews and reader emails, and most of them have been really touching. I love hearing what people think of the book. It all still feels very fresh to me. The most memorable ones are from Asian women who’ve said they felt seen. I was really hoping that would be the case, and it’s reaffirming to hear.
Well, I did have an interesting experience in a workshop where a man said he loved one of my stories (yay) and was surprised that a woman wrote such good sci-fi (oof). He later explained that I was the first woman writer he knows whose science fiction he enjoyed.
So yes, gender norms and expectations in speculative fiction are a potential topic of conversation down the road.
At my last reading, a friend of my mom’s asked, “William—how did you get so suave?” I told her that I’d just come from cleaning up my oldest son, who had vomited all over himself during a car ride, and anybody will look suave once they get to walk away from that.
A beloved writing teacher, mentor, and friend of mine named Louise DeSalvo told me two things about my work on separate occasions that I really treasure. She saw a lot of my writing-in-progress, which no one had ever seen before her. I’ll never forget—she said it was “miasmic,” which is a word I had to look up after she used it. It basically means noxious, unpleasant, and creating a chaotic atmosphere.
It shocked me—here I thought I was so organized, so tidy! I felt so embarrassed. But later she gave me the best compliment I’ve ever received about my work. “You’re a surprising writer,” she said. “I never know what you’re going to do next.”
I didn’t know until she said it that it was exactly what I hope my writing will always be; it’s that forever goal that lives on my horizon. And I think in order to be surprising, your writing process probably needs to be a little miasmic, too.
Someone was telling me how much she loved my book and maybe because she worried I wouldn’t believe her if she didn’t have a negative to comp to, she said, “I gave it to my friend Sheila, and she HAAAAAATED it.” (She had an awesome West Tennessee accent; it’s thicker and more syrupy than the East Tennessee accent.) I still think of it all the time and laugh.
My book’s been compared to The Girl on the Train a couple of times. I’ve never read it and now I don’t think I ever can, because I’ll be frantically comparing it! But I don’t get the impression that they’re very similar at all other than the fact that they’re about young women who are unhappy in some way. Which, really, isn’t that big a parallel.
Someone sent me a message on social media saying that The Colours of Denial got them into reading again which I found really touching. A few people said it made them a little teary too which I never intended or expected from my first novel, and my best friend who I’ve known since 1998 said she was “amazed that I wrote this”, despite knowing that writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
In case you’re wondering, yes, she’s still my best friend.