I wrote and published Where Memories Meet with the goals to educate and commiserate. I wanted to give readers who had little to no experience with Alzheimer’s a clear understanding of what was involved, as least to the extend that my family experienced it, and I wanted to reach out to those who were currently, or had been, dealing with a loved one with Alzheimer’s and let them know they were not alone. I understood.
A few weeks ago I received my first negative critique of Where Memories Meet. (The good reviews I rush to post, the negative ones, not so much.) As a writer it can be demoralizing and utterly discouraging when you receive negative feedback. It took me about a week to lick my wounds and resurface from the cave I had crawled into.
I requested feedback from a Writer’s Digest contest I had entered the book in, and the critique came as an email with the subject line, “You asked for it.” Which I’m sure was their standard response, but which particularly drove the point, and it was a sharp one, home.
The reader clearly didn’t like the book, and after reading the comments, I suspected he or she hadn’t read very far into it. The critique quoted a particularly benign sentence from page 13 and I seriously question whether the reviewer read any further than that.
The reviewer informed me that when one was writing about life and death matters, it was important to bring the character to life. I agree. In fact that was one of my most important goals and guiding principles as I wrote Where Memories Meet. I aimed to transform my father for the reader. And I took the risk of moving my story line backwards in steps through the seasons to do so, even though some readers found that difficult. I wanted the reader to see that the silent, largely non-responsive human life was a bright, multi-faceted, productive, and devoted father and husband before the disease took him away piece-by-piece. Or maybe I should say, “inch-by-inch.” Had the reviewer finished the book, I believe he or she would have seen that.
He or she also chose to compare my nonfiction memoir and oral narrative to the fictional Still Alice. I read Still Alice. I liked Still Alice. I was not writing Still Alice. I was not writing fiction. I read a lot of nonfiction, and today authors are doing an increasingly better job at making nonfiction compelling reading. I acknowledge that I might have been better at doing this.
What hurt the most was the reviewer’s comment that I told the story “inch-by-inch.” In my cave, licking my wounds, I chewed on that one for a good long while.
When I resurfaced, I responded to the Writer’s Digest contest. I was particularly disappointed because I had always viewed WD as a help and encouragement to writers, in particular to self-published writers. I didn’t find anything about the feedback I received to be helpful—only mean-spirited, discouraging, and demoralizing. I told them the review made me feel like I should apologize for asking the reviewer to read my book. I said that I made a mistake in entering it in the contest, and that was a mistake I would not be making again.
The positive outcome from this painful episode is that the reviewer unwittingly nailed it on the head, gave me a new insight into my family’s experience, and inspired me to write the post at my author website, Inch by Inch, about helping someone with Alzheimer’s.