Long story short, my latest novella, The Diary of V. Frankenstein has had a review that rips it to shreds and says the story does the opposite of following feminist themes and is actually condescending, patronizing and anti-feminist (the review contains a lot of spoilers but it’s on goodreads if you want to look). The reviewer didn’t know there was a gender swapped version, and has agreed to read it, but at the end of the day she may still not like it. I totally accept this, but I’ve felt it important to write about this experience and how to move forward from the review.
For a number of reasons, the harsh review hurts a lot and is a bitter pill to swallow. As mentioned in a previous post, I did swallow this pill 3-4 months ago, when I was told the story could be interpreted negatively. After re-writes, and the creation of the alternate gender swap version, I thought we had got it right; that hand in hand the two versions of the story were a fascinating duality on the themes and plot. In part this is what has happened, but mistakes have been made on the way. This is partly due to me and my weaknesses, but also due to not providing both versions equally- oh the irony!
The best way to begin this discussion is to talk about how I write a story. I don’t often think when writing a story. I usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and some themes to play with, and then I just write. The story tends to evolve by itself. I don’t really think about the characters, a target audience, marketability, or how it will all be interpreted etc. In hindsight this is very naïve, innocent and ignorant of me. In my defence it is a much more organic process, but I see now it can lead to problems if I don’t think enough about who will read this story and the perspective they might take on it.
The fact that The Diary of V. Frankenstein can be read as the opposite of what I tried to make it has happened for a number of reasons- mostly because of the above. The review is harsh and contains many spoilers, but the reality is that many people will agree with this negative review, yet at the same time many people won’t even think about the things she’s highlighted. And this is the difficulty of subjectivity and with right and wrong a lot of the time- it is us as individuals who define our reality/how we perceive something. Because of how subjective things like interpretation of stories can be, such a review wouldn’t usually create this level discussion from me, but as I’ve said, the review is totally valid and important for me to listen to.
Let’s go back in time for a minute. When it was brought to my attention by my editor and publisher of how certain aspects to the story can be seen as the opposite of what I was trying to do I struggled to accept it. However, that was my naïve perspective and my ignorance. For one who has a very high emotional level at times and who can be very empathic and compassionate, I seriously failed these wonderful aspects of my personality. I did not put enough weight on how readers could perceive the plot of the story.
Fortunately, great things came from my naivety and we developed the alternative version I’ve discussed in previous posts: a version that is, ultimately what I should have written in the first place. But I am human, and therefore prone to mistakes and weaknesses. Another mistake I make is that I often think people will take the positive interpretation and not the negative- once again, I am so innocent and ignorant at times, which is no excuse. I need to do better. I need to apply empathy and understanding to my readers, especially with such important themes and subject matters that mean everything to me.
In hindsight I wish we had published the Victoria Frankenstein version as the primary version. We were so close in doing so, but an attitude of, ‘it will be okay, and once we’ve had sales and sold the hardbacks special editions of the female version, we can sort out the female paperbacks and ebooks.’ It was clearly not okay. Actually, the truth is they should have all been equal.
The nature of time is that we can’t go back and can only move forward. The wonderful part of life is that we are humans and have the capacity to adapt, learn and grow. It can be painful and hard, but is so worth it. Out of negatives, positives can be created. For this specific situation, the positivity is that the two stories are going to be published together in one book. It is a wonderful combining of two fascinating versions of the same story, and both can be seen from multiple points of view, but with them together readers will know there are two halves to a whole. Hopefully, with the stories together it will be something fun to read, but I also hope it will be something that has layers and provokes thought on personal perception, and the importance of empathy and understanding of all perspectives.