Friday, May 8, 2020

An Interesting Incident In A Boring Life

     Just so there’s no misunderstanding, the “boring life” of the title is mine. And Gentle Reader, I mean it the way it sounds: most people, were they compelled to live as I live, would probably sleep about twenty hours per day. Not much happens around me – and I like it that way. I read. I write. Occasionally I make a phone call. I leave the house to go to church, and occasionally to shop. Now and then I go to the range and spend an hour or two blowing holes in perfectly innocent paper targets. But actual events are all but unknown around here.

     So when an event occurs, it commands attention.

     This event is about “two days long” at this point. It’s possible that it will fail to affect you. It pierced me deeply, undoubtedly because I write fiction. Anyway, here we go.

     A couple of days ago a promotional service notified me of a free novel that piqued my interest. Mind you, that’s not easy. I read a great deal, and I have a nearly perfect memory. In consequence, originality being far rarer than mimicry, the plot of a novel will sound familiar to me far more often than not. So getting my undivided attention with a promotional blurb is an achievement all by itself.

     I downloaded the novel and found it mesmerizing. Genuinely imaginative, very well characterized, and well written. Unfortunately, because I must protect the identity of the author, I can’t tell you anything more about it, except for this: it’s the first volume in a series.

     I praised the novel lavishly. That’s me: I lavish praise when impressed, and I scathe when disappointed. But I am a sincere reviewer. I don’t praise what doesn’t deserve praise; neither do I condemn what doesn’t deserve condemnation. And I don’t mince words.

     That review had an unexpected consequence: the author wrote to thank me for it. Thus began an exchange of emails that started in a fairly conventional vein but did not remain there.

     The author, whom I’ll call Jane, described herself as “not good with reaching out to strangers.” Even so, her initial email was quite warm, so I wrote back assuring her that I meant what I had written about her tale and was on to the next volume in the series.

     I was just as impressed – perhaps even a bit more – with the second volume, wrote another praiseful review, and immediately purchased and started the third volume. I did not expect what followed.

     Jane pleaded with me not to read her third book. She was certain that I’d be disappointed by it…and she underscored that by saying that my opinion had come to mean too much to her.

     Talk about being bowled over! Why would Jane, whose first two books had already established her as a skilled and imaginative storyteller, expect me to be disappointed by the third book? Not that it mattered, as when her note arrived I was already deep into it and utterly absorbed by it. (I wish I could point you to her stuff; it really is that good. But I’m committed to preserving her privacy.)

     I don’t know how to characterize Jane’s reaction. I know the fear that comes from stepping (or being thrust) into the light for the first time. I know the nerves that beset even a well-traveled creator upon allowing the world to see his latest work. (I was unbearable the day I released The Warm Lands for public consumption – ask my wife – and that’s my fifteenth novel.) But when someone who owes you nothing praises your work in the highest terms, shouldn’t it help to dispel the fear? Shouldn’t it gratify you and reinforce your will to carry on?

     Perhaps the desire to understand such a thing is inherently misguided. Not everything fits some categorical pigeonhole. People vary in more ways, and more dramatically, than a lot of younger folks would believe. Even this old recluse confronts previously unknown variations among individuals every day.

     Perhaps the important lesson is to accept others as they are, and not try to pre-assign them to some category from which you can expect to predict their actions and reactions.

     If there’s a Last Graf, it would be this: Be kind. Allow others the space they need to share this ball of rock with you. To those who seem to need reassurance, offer reassurance. To those who seem to need comfort, offer comfort. Don’t take it badly if your offers are rejected, for some people aren’t able to accept such offerings. And of course, judge not, for you too will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. We have that on the very highest Authority.

     “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” – attributed to Henry James.

1 comment:

Pascal said...

Perhaps she so let your praise go to her head that she feared any reversal would damage her heart. Maybe you'll begin your next missive "Too late."