June 8, 2008

Recently I read a post on a Yahoo gay writers group that got me fired up. Author Mykola Dementiuk had just received a disturbing review of his new books, Vienna Dolorosa and Times Queer (Synergy Press.) The reviewer called his work 'depraved, 'fanatical', 'gruesome' and lacking in 'entertaining' values.

Many writers have been judged harshly by critics, including JD Salinger who, as recently as 1979 could boast that he had written the most frequently banned book in US history (The Catcher in the Rye.) Not being unfamiliar with disturbing reviews myself, I sent Mick this response:

Hi Mykola

I wanted to pass along my three-cent's worth on critics and reviews. A well-known Toronto literary agent once told me my first novel, A CAGE OF BONES, which contains a rape scene in a men's prison, was "disgusting". I sold it to an English publisher and it was published to very favourable reviews around the world, but also one very big pan in -- guess where? -- my hometown of Toronto.

Around the same time, I wrote what I consider my finest play, THE MICHAEL RIDLER PROJECT, about a man coming to terms with the death of his sadistic lover to AIDS. It's a true and not very pretty story. It opens with an anonymous sexual encounter between two men and includes a molestation scene in which an alcoholic mother abuses her ten-year-old son, who grows up to become the subject of the play. A highly renowned and highly closeted theatre director in Toronto wrote to tell me he thought it was "disgusting." Hmmm, I thought. That sounds familiar. It was eventually produced by my theatre company and got one of the best reviews of my career, as well as one outright pan in -- you guessed it! -- Toronto.

Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, DH Lawrence and Henry Miller are names you will be familiar with. They all offended somebody at some point in their careers. Their works have even been put on trial for breaching obscenity laws. All of the things that reviewer said about your book have been said of theirs. Who knows why. Closeted critics with something to hide? Born-again former sex trade workers with a bone to pick? Homophobes with hidden agendas? It doesn't matter. It didn't stop them from writing, even if it made somebody stop reading their work. Those people aren't your readership, so why should you care? But of course -- you're a writer, which makes you an extraordinarily senstitive person. It's one of the reasons we write, after all.

I was at the Cyndi Lauper True Colors Tour two nights ago. Rosie O'Donnell was one of the guests. The first thing she told the audience was that she'd just been voted Most Annoying Celebrity of the Year. We all cheered and clapped because, in our eyes, that was some accomplishment. To know you can move someone that much that they would pan your work is an accomplishment. You may never get over your sensitivity to unkind criticism, but go out and have a drink to remind yourself that you write because you have something to say, and don't worry whether anybody wants to hear about it or not. Eventually you'll find the people who do.


1 comment:

M.Christian said...

I can't agree more! People have always been petty, trying to push their own little agendas, but I think the web has exacerbated this: now writers are all too often authors slamming into ‘review’ sites run by people who are either unqualified or are just using their tiny kingdoms to make themselves feel superior.

Nick is a fine writer and his book is great. If anyone doesn't want to review it, fine, but no one has the right to slam an author like these twits did.


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