This was a guest post for Samantha LaFantasie’s blog. It was published on January 16th, 2014.
I lost to Game of Thrones
After almost twenty years of working as web developer and almost five hundred websites later, I needed something new. So, I tried my hand in two different things; writing and finding funding for startups. My first endeavour has so far produced half a dozen children’s books, a dozen short stories, including an award-winning one, and my sci-fi series, Pearseus.
My second career path led me to a partnership with a few colleagues. In late 2012 we moved to new premises, which the partners had renovated into a stunning office building. My father came to visit, and was gobsmacked.
“What nice people! And the building’s great. In all my years working as an engineer, this is the best office premises I’ve ever been in,” he said.
A few months and a string of broken promises later, I left the company. My father’s reaction to the news was, “Thank God! I never did like those guys; and I hated that office from the first time I stepped my foot in there. Ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”
I had to laugh, but the support betrayed by his contradiction moved me.
Which made his reaction – or lack of – to my novel all the more surprising. “My book. It’s finished,” I said as I handed him my finished manuscript much the way someone might hand a baby over to her grandparents. He glanced at it and dumped it into a bag. Curious, I thought.
I had not heard anything on the subject for a couple of months, so I asked him if he had read it. Sounding slightly annoyed, he said “no, I’m re-reading Martin’s books right now. It’ll have to wait.”
Now, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones myself (I even describe Pearseus as “Game of Thrones meets Dune”), but this perplexed me. Curiouser and curiouser.
Then, a few months later (Martin’s not known for his brevity), he called me up late at night to say, “I finished the book you gave me.”
I confess that my heart jumped. “And?”
“Great book, it had some fantastic ideas. I was totally hooked. You know what this guy did? He took historical elements from ancient Greece and created a space opera with them.”
I frowned and stared at the phone in confusion. This guy? “What guy?”
And he replied, in a matter-of-fact voice, “why, whoever wrote this. There was no name on the printout.”
Once I managed to stop laughing, I explained, “this guy is me, dad. But I’m glad you liked it even before you knew that.”
I drew from this incident a very valuable lesson: our critics are human beings, too. If you’re anything like me, rejection will get you down. I mean, how can it not? We study humans for a living, learn to read between the lines and ferret out their true emotions, in order to accurately describe them in our work. We observe every nuanced shift in people’s voices and gait; every slight movement of their hand; tapping of their fingers; furrow of their brow, and hurriedly jot it down. How can we be anything but sensitive to criticism?
Yet, a harsh critic could simply be too tired to give our work a decent chance. Maybe they didn’t get it, or maybe they were just having a bad day and took it out on us. Or perhaps they’re just plain deaf, like my dad.
It’s sad and unfair, but it’s the simple truth; and a liberating one at that, as it means rejection need not get us down or even trouble us unduly. It’s not an oracle we’re consulting, it’s a fellow human. We might agree or disagree with them, decide to follow their advice or ignore it, worry about it or shrug it off. It’s all OK.
So, my advice as a newly (self)published writer to any aspiring author out there is simple: when you give your dad your manuscript, speak very slowly.