This title officially outs me as someone who occasionally picks up paranormal/urban fantasy/romance, but you know what? I like to read for fun. In particular, it was something I clung to in high school, as the bad, lazy student I was, and still read to this day—though I’ve grown a bit from a wee tot and find myself much pickier than I was previously. The stories that thrilled me when I was fifteen don’t so much hold true a decade later. And at the center of my love for paranormal fantasy/romance was—note the past tense—Laurell K. Hamilton. Through her, I learned a great many things, both good and bad, but mainly I learned that accepting criticism graciously and with humility is not something that everyone can learn, or even acknowledges.
The world-building in the first nine novels is genuinely fascinating from a writer’s standpoint, since there’s so much detail involved in making this “real,” and because of that I was able to overlook a lot of the inherent problems in the text itself: Misogyny on the part of the main (female) character, flat male characters only there for eye candy, incorrect and/or misused facts (that I easily Googled on my own), unimpressive prose, etc. It’s actually rather surprising what I’m able to overlook when I’m involved in the story itself.
It’s no secret in this community of fans that—as my mother might say—the cheese done slid off her cracker. Although I could go on and on about how she has said (publically, I might add) that “[she] can buy [her characters] Christmas presents, but there is no way to send them,” or that her Twitter feed is littered with observations that her writing is much more real than everyone else in her genre because she writes from agony and pain deep inside her—that’s not the point of this post. All of these things are weird, to be sure, and she often uses absolutes when talking about “real” writers (such as herself, of course), but Hamilton has proven that she is unable and unwilling to accept criticism. In a now-famous blog post, similar to Anne Rice’s more well-known flipout one year later, Hamilton lambasted fans who were saying that the quality of her books has gone down.
Instead of, I don’t know, responding like a rational adult, she essentially said that everyone who doesn’t like her books should try something easier, basically calling them (also, me) morons.
This was an excellent life lesson for me as what not to do, if in the distant future I have imagined for myself as someone way more rich and famous than J.K. Rowling, I ever come across a small faction of loud readers who feel my books aren’t what they used to be. Writing is so painfully subjective that one person can love something more than breathing and another will have fantasies of burning every page, one by one. Even with peers whom I respect and greatly admire, I have dissonance with books they love, and vice versa. Got it. It’s called being different human beings and not being forced to like all the same things.
And yet, there’s always another lesson to learn out there. As bad as Hamilton can get, it’s nothing compared to the meltdown of Candace Sams, author of floozy sci-fi romance Mr. Interstellar Feller. By “meltdown,” I mean the trainwreck of the millennium. Although all of her posts against the one-star review of her novel have been removed, some excellent human being thought to save them all for posterity. Neil Gaiman had the best advice ever on the subject: “…if any of you are ever tempted to respond to bad reviews or internet trolls etc, it’s a salutary reminder of why some things are better written in anger and deleted in the morning.”
As important as it is to learn what to do to be a good and successful writer, I think it’s just as important to learn what not to do. Accepting criticism, being (even marginally) gracious, is a huge part of a writer’s life; if you’re unable to do this without, say, fire-roasting everyone who has ever read your work, then you’re probably—just maybe—in the wrong profession.
Here’s looking at you, Hamilton and Sams.