The Critic who Thought a Duck was a Cow
- Facebook Status, 12 Aug 2011
I had my first run in with a critic yesterday ... and I freaked. After a couple of hours and many tears, I calmed down and evaluated what the critic actually said. I then realized that much of it makes little sense. While I respect the time taken to read my novel, CENTERPIECES, and write the review as well as her honesty, I feel compelled to respond to a few of her comments and questions.
A little background:
Despite not being published by a major house, or having a trust fund, other famous creditials, or MFA, I've have been able to obtain quite a few reviews for my novels, ABERRATIONS and CENTERPIECES. I've also received many comments about Aberration Nation from highly creative folks including award winning and bestelling authors Joshilyn Jackson, Lisa See, Darin Strauss, Anneli Rufus, Antwone Fisher, Margaret Weis, Marya Hornbacher, Terri Cheney, Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Melissa Walker, and Susan Cheever. Of all these reviews and comments, only one or two have included anything that could be construed as negative.
Being that I'm a sensitive, borderline drama queen, those couple of negative comments were devastating, but I got over it. Those minor ego setbacks luckily occurred after years of constant rejection from agents and publishers. Those are the folks I cut my teeth on. They thickened my skin and taught me how to barrel through at times when it seemed the world was laughing at my creative efforts.
Despite the pain involved, I'm always willing to hear constructive feedback, assess it, and then apply what I feel is useful to my work moving forward. I have operated that way for years, and have seen my work grow as a result. I respect that approach, and believe it's critical for the creative who wants to continuously improve and evolve.
With that said, in this case I feel compelled to respond:
"The author Penelope Przekop's second novel, CENTERPIECES, is a novel that bravely tries to be a historical fiction about Van Gogh, art and the creative drive, but instead turns out to the a twisted narrative that describes a stifling world of corporate ladder climbing."
According to the CENTERPIECES press release, "Penelope Przekop takes readers on a thought-provoking journey as corporate executives follow their creative urges in 'Centerpieces.'"
CENTERPIECES is not marketed as historical fiction. The novel is categorized on Amazon as Fiction / Alternative History. This is defined as:
Alternate history or alternative history is a genre of fiction consisting of stories that are set in worlds in which history has diverged from the actual history of the world.
My intent was not to write a historical novel. The intent was to write fiction based on the interesting facts of Van Gogh's death, and what transpired afterwards. My idea was to weave those facts with his creative temperament and my own observations about corporate life and creativity.
"Przekop herself, a 'global quality director,' for the pharmaceutical industry--a title as vague and important-sounding as many of the details in her book - is a business woman who 'stepped back' from her career to become a writer and painter."
My title was Director, Global Quality Management, with the global Johnson & Johnson pharmacovigilance organization. This is a common type of title within not only the pharmaceutical industry but also in many other service and manufacturing industries. Further, I don't believe the details of my novel are generally vague or important sounding (whatever that means). Those details that are vague were made to be so purposefully.
Of note, my current title is Senior Director, Global Quality Assurance & Training. Maybe she will like that one better.
"Chapters set in the latter part of the 19th century, however, in Van Gogh's actual time period (of which there are thankfully very few) are, however, written in an awkward style and are filled with odd thematic sentiments."
I spent months reading all available literature about Vincent and Theo van Gogh, including the lengthy letters they wrote to one another over many years. The writing style and thematic sentiments in the chapters set in the late 19th century were closely based on the style of written communication that Vincent and Theo used in their own personal writings to one another. This was fully my intention so while the comment is quite negative, I am happy to know that I succeeded in mimicking their awkward, overtly sentimental communication style.
"CENTERPIECES as speculation historical fiction feels misleading, as readers will not learn about the artist, his life or work, from reading it."
Again, the primary intention of the novel, clearly communication in the Press Release and jacket description, was not to teach readers about the life or work of Van Gogh. I'm not sure how the critic has misunderstood the entire intent of the novel. She states that the novel's few informative facts are listed chronologically in an afterward. The entire novel takes place after Van Gogh's actual death so the facts listed in the back of the book are those that occurred after his death. The novel is fiction woven around those facts. Again, alternative history ....
"Ironically, both men seem as miserable in their extended lives as they were in their real ones." (meant negatively)
This is like saying, "Ironically, she seemed as miserable in her later years as she was in her younger years." I don't see any irony in this. Long term happiness is never guaranteed. We all make choices based on the facts and situations that are presented to us. Of course, we should look to future outcomes as part of our decision making. Often we believe we are making the best choice at the time, only to learn later that we didn't realize all of the implications.
"Following the revelation that Ellis and Tom are Vincent and Theo, come a series of implausible and confusing events that lead us to believe that the brothers are vampires, or are at the very least vampire-like. This assumption is based on vague but foreboding dialogue about 'living in the light,' not wanting to 'return to the darkness,' a drug called 'teperaquin' that they supposedly need to stay alive and too much biting and killing to go unnoticed - though it does go unexplained."
The vagueness around their being vampires was intentional as my goal was not to write a "vampire" novel. Of course being a vampire is implausible. It's fiction. Teperaquin is a drug that enables them to be in the light, not to stay alive. There is very little biting and killing in the novel, and the details around how those were covered up was relevant to the novel.
"Przekop doesn't seem to realize she has on her hands an interesting novel about the mentalities, professions, and industries that unnecessarily stifle creativity, and created as a distraction too many artificial moments of interest."
I do realize what I created. Apparently, the critic didn't realize what she was reading. As for "artificial moments of interest" that is the critic's opinion. From my perspective, every detail and scene in the novel served a specific purpose, althought every reader may not "catch" every detailed, complex connection upon first reading.
"Is Mimi a stripper simply so Przekop could write a juicy chapter describing Mimi's sexuality?"
No. The novel includes one scene about Mimi's stripping. Mimi's being a stripper is important for her characterization and the plot. It is how she knows Ellis and Tom, and why she does not tell Holly that she knows them. This night job is part of her characterization, which ties into her telling everyone that she's a vampire. All of this is necessary to the plot with regard to what happens at the end of the novel.
"Why does Holly, who longs for emotion, color and life, turn away from Van Gogh when he reaches out to her with the truth about his unnatural life?"
Her disbelief and assumption that he is mentally ill is realistic. I deeply long for emotion, color and life, but if someone told me they were Vincent van Gogh, I wouldn't jump for joy and accept it with no questions or hesitation. If I were already involved in a romantic relationship with that person, their belief that they are Vincent van Gogh would be both disturbing and conflicting.
"Why would Vincent, who ended his own life, wish to be immortally unhappy?"
See my response above regarding the choices we make in life. Why would a woman marry a man who then made her unhappy for the rest of her life? On the wedding day, I'm sure she though all her dreams would finally come true. Despite our best intentions with choice making, there are often negative outcomes that we didn't foresee.
"Why would he become immortal only to allow himself, for 200 years, to be ordered never to paint again by his brother?"
The initial decision that he would not paint was part of the plan that he, Theo and Johanna created together. The evolution of that decision is based on many factors that are clearly explained in the novel. Theo's power over Vincent in the novel is based on the dynamic that evolves due to Vincent being responsible for making Theo a vampire (without his consent) and thus making him lose the woman he loves. I believe that the dynamic is based on realistic physcological and emotional relationship factors that are true to life, and follow the actual personalities and dispositions of Vincent and Theo van Gogh (based on my extensive research).
"Why would Vincent keep alive the brother who stifled him with his faith, devotion and lack of understanding?"
If the critic is referring to Vincent making Theo a vampire, her assessment about their relationship is inaccurate. Theo was Vincent's primary support throughout his life, and his closest friend and relative, despite any relationship difficulties they may have had.
On another level, no matter how much a sibling might drive you nuts, would you let them die if you had the chance to save them? Further, if you were both healthy, would you just kill them off because they were causing you trouble? I think not. Should we all just kill our relatives and spouses during tough times?
In conclusion, it appears that this critic has misunderstood CENTERPIECES on multiple levels. Perhaps that is my fault as a writer, and perhaps it's unprofessional to respond to the review. However, based on the reaction of my other reader, I'm confident that the book, press release, and actual novel are not as misleading as she found them to be.
And I am not as dumb as she has assumed.
I admit that I'm highly emotional, sensitive, impulsive, and sometimes immature. However, I have diligently worked for years on my craft, and am proud of my accomplishments. I stand by my novel, CENTERPIECES, and believe I've succeeded in accomplishing my goals with the project.
If you're interested in reading the novel to decide for yourself, I'm posting the entire book here on Aberration Nation over the next few weeks. Links to the available chapters can be found on the sidebar. I'm not promoting the book as much as I could due to my current focus on art, but I do hope that a few folks will read and enjoy it.
One critic wasn't crazy about my novel. So what?
You can read her review here.
To read the CENTERPIECES press release and back cover copy, go here.
To start reading CENTERPIECES on line, go here.