My Wishful Thinking, book reviews, and getting some things off my chest

Putting writing out into the world is a scary, scary thing.  Some people will love your work and some may hate it.  Not that long ago one- or two-star reviews could tie my stomach up in knots. It bothered me that someone had paid to read a story of mine and disliked it so much that they felt compelled to leave a horrible rating.

When I got my first low-star review, I wanted to contact the person and give them a refund. It seemed like good customer service to me, a chance to apologize and make it right. My earliest jobs were in service and the customer is always right had been ingrained into my psyche. But I decided not to do this for a couple reasons.  The first is that bookstores seem to be very fair to customers with their return policy.  But the primary reason is a cardinal rule for writers: do not engage with your reviewers, good or bad.

Eventually the sting of my first low stars wore off. I’ve been blessed with far more high-star ratings and emails from readers who truly enjoyed my work. Why spend time and energy worrying about the others? I couldn’t change it even if I wanted. The old saying about pleasing some of the people-all of the people-some of the time-all of the time had become manifest in my life. After all, there’s a reason that saying became a cliché.

All that aside, there are still reviews that bother me. Readers who misinterpret my intention, who don’t understand what I was saying–or rather, trying to say—really, really, really bother me. No one wants to be misunderstood whether you’ve taken six months of your life or six years of your life to craft the book and build a theme into it and have people come away with the exactly the opposite of what you were aiming for. Not good, not good at all.

So, I feel the need to defend or explain what I was trying to do with My Wishful Thinking, because several reviewers have complained that there are no consequences for the girls by wishing poorly.  This is simply not true.

*SPOILER ALERT* If you haven’t read the book, I’m going to get into some very specific examples so maybe you want to skip ahead or skip altogether.

First of all, it’s true that not every wish had consequences. When the girls wished for the rain to stop, climate change didn’t ensue. When they wished for a jumbo free, no cal Frostie they broke no laws about large, unhealthy beverages.

But every other wish did have a consequence, and usually not a good one.  It may not have been the outcome the reader was wishing for, but there you have it–wishing doesn’t always get you exactly what you want.

One wish/consequence I want to elaborate on, because it was mentioned specifically by one or two of the reviewers, was the girls’ shoe wish. Someone felt this was akin to stealing. First, I want to say that this is a magical world, where things materialize out of thin air, so, no, in my mind the shoes did not go *poof* from the store to Em’s home. What the girls received is a “copy” of the shoes. No shoe store, or other customer with the same size was injured in the making of the shoe wish. The result? The enormous pile of crap that the girls had to deal with.

I’m going to digress here. About a year before writing this story a friend of a friend passed away and they were tasked with handling the estate. The woman who died had been a hoarder.  I know there are reality TV shows about this, but unless you’ve actually been confronted with a home like this you have no idea. It’s truly, truly mind boggling, and is some kind of  psychological sickness. She had not just one pair of every shoe imaginable, but multiple pairs. Ten pairs of the same sneaker. Most had been worn, because the soles were dirty, but the shoes were not anywhere close to worn out. One room was literally floor to ceiling clothes. Sometimes she had bought twenty or thirty of the same shirt—five white, five yellow, three black and on and on, most of them still tagged.

Before going to her condo, my friends had told me about what they were facing, but the full impact of what they were saying did not hit home until I saw it.  It was, in a word, overwhelming. Seeing that, changed my views on having and acquiring stuff. I’ve become much more selective about purchases, and now spend a little time every day getting rid of things. This is the result of this wish. The feeling of helplessness and “what do I do with all this” that comes from an over abundance.  It may not be what was expected by readers, but the wish delivered results that the girls hadn’t anticipated.

Some of the other wishes had silly consequences. Like when Em’s new and improved boobs made it so that she couldn’t wear her favorite shirts. Certainly, this is not earth-shattering and even seems shallow, but it was an unintended result of something she hadn’t fully thought through.

Without spoiling every wish, I’ll just say that most had somewhat comical results. This book was intended to be a light commentary on wishing well. I do realize there can be dark outcomes from greed and that was my point in writing the story, but I didn’t want to write a super dark story. I’m not that kind of writer and I wouldn’t do a good job of it. I’ll leave that to the horror writers.

Still, I want to point out that there was one dark result of wanting what you want when you want it—the magician. His soul, after years of selfishness, had putrefied to the point that he was a caricature of evil.  The girls never reached that point, they’d only been wishing for a week or two, but the idea of what they could become existed in the story.  No one would want to be the magician, and so it was a cautionary tale.

One reviewer was bothered by the happy ending after all these bad wishes, but I’d like to point out that happiness only came into Lo’s life when she focused on others, rescuing Eugene because he needed rescuing, wishing for her mom. Eugene’s sacrifice and resurrection is ultimately what brought joy to her life, allegorically speaking.

Okay, so there you have it, my view of the book I wrote.

*SPOILER OVER*

I’ve been debating about writing this post for a while. Because I’m worried that it could be interpreted as engaging with reviewers. I thought and thought and thought, and then I finally decided that I just wanted to be on record about my intent.

Yes, I understand that there are consequences. There always are. That was the whole point in writing it.  And now, because I didn’t do a Music Monday post, here’s a song that sums up how I feel about this.

March 13, 2013. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized.

4 Comments

  1. Kristina Miranda replied:

    “No shoe store, or other customer with the same size was injured in the making of the shoe wish.”

    That line had me laughing out loud!

    Funniness aside, it sounds like a couple of reviewers maybe took things a little too seriously. I haven’t experienced yet what it’s like to see public reviews, but I can only imagine how difficult it must be at times.

    It takes a lot of courage to be a writer. And you’ve got it. Inspiring! : )

    • s h e l d e l i s l e replied:

      I’m so glad it made you laugh, Kristina! I was trying really hard to lighten up a post where I felt like I was ranting.

      Even though I know my intention behind the book, and it seems like most readers “got it”, it still bothers me to have a couple people who saw it as encouraging bad behavior. It seems I missed the mark on something, though I’m not sure what I should have done differently.

  2. kerryomalleycerra replied:

    Very well said. I was just having this disucssion today with a friend about bad reviews because a reader didn’t get what the author was saying. Something that’s totally clear to one person can be misinterpreted by another. We’re products of our upbringing and society and since that varies from person to person, so too will the interpretation of any work of art, written or other. Thanks for writing this, Shel.

    • s h e l d e l i s l e replied:

      Thanks, Ker. You’ve been reading my writing for so long that you know what I’m trying to say even when I haven’t figured it out yet. :)

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