Literary Critics Among Us

Writers have writer friends. It’s not that we are clannish. More often than not we are quiet in social situations. Until a group of us get together and then, well, it’s not exactly Animal House, but the wine flows, the conversations take off and we are blissfully convivial. When we are not gathered in social settings, we often turn to each other with the big soul searching questions: Is it any good?  Should I throw out the first chapter and start all over? Why didn’t the (pick one) agent-publisher-reviewer LIKE it? We know we can trust this special circle of friends to be honest not only about the big questions, but generally about our work.

One of my early favorite reviews of October Run, when it was a work in progress, came from my friend Tracy McArdle who said “I liked it from the start, and it kept getting better and better …”   Easy translation: you need to work on the beginning so it’s as good as the rest of the book!

Just this week, I received a most splendid review from Wanda Rickerby, a longtime friend and author. Wanda was a journalist early in her career who travelled the world with photojournalist husband Arthur Rickerby as he made fabulous pictures for LIFE magazine. He covered the Kennedy White House, right up until that sad November day in Dallas. Arthur died too early, at a young 51. Wanda continued to write for environmental causes and then a novel.

Wanda uses words precisely — I think it’s the journalist in her. She also has a wicked sense of humor. So when her letter arrived, a real letter in the mail, I was anxious to read it.

She made my day with one of the best, and funniest reviews to date: “I expected a book full of thoughtful commentary about human weaknesses — and instead I got this fast-paced and continually interesting novel. It had a hard edge that I found very intriguing and, I have to admit, surprising, coming from you.”

Writer friends, like all our other friends, often cannot separate the author from the person they know.  I’ve been asked if I were really an opera singer (no), if my mother died young (no), if I ever lived in the country (yes…we do use life experiences). So, Wanda sees me as less edgy than my book. I’m fine with that.

She went on to list details she loved in October Run. She had wanted a more complete picture of the shadowy private investigator, Tony Czarnak.  “Clearly he and Phred should be partners in the next half dozen books.” I’m working on that.

Then came pure wonderful Wanda: “My biggest quibble: PHRED! Where did that come from? And why? … Did you have a reason for tagging your lead character with a name more appropriate to a Blue Tick Hound?”

There will be a lunch, soon, with Wanda where I’ll get to answer her questions. For now, she gave me the best LOL of book comments. For Wanda and my many other writing friends who have showered and sometimes zinged me with their reviews, a big thank-you!

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