It’s Okay…to Not Be Okay

“May you live in interesting times.” –ancient Chinese curse (likely apocryphal)

Honestly, I didn’t really want to write about COVID-19 today. It’s hard enough being bombarded with constant news articles and opinion pieces and press releases and tweets (however humorous). But the more outlandish blog post ideas I tossed around in my head the more it seemed the inevitable was probably going to happen. I was going to talk about coronavirus.

But I don’t want to talk about staying home or flattening the curve or how our leadership has botched their response to this crisis, although these are all important things (and I encourage you to read about them if you haven’t already). I want to talk about you. And I want to tell you that it’s okay if you’re not okay. Because I’m pretty sure most of us aren’t.

I was reading about a woman who was diagnosed with the virus and was strongly advised to self-quarantine by officials. Instead, she went to a local bookstore, where she complained to the staff about her diagnosis while browsing books. The staff understandably asked her to leave immediately. She grew enraged, intentionally touching as many books as possible before being dragged out by security. The entire bookstore staff had to be quarantined because of this woman’s selfish actions.

Obviously, this woman’s behavior is reprehensible. But the more I thought about her actions, the more they seemed familiar. First, she reacted to her diagnosis with denial: “I don’t feel sick and I won’t stay home.” Then, those feelings transformed into anger: “If you’re going to treat me like I’m sick then you’ll be sorry!” If you’ve ever taken Psych 101 or dealt with a loss you may be familiar with these terms. Denial and anger are the first two stages of grief, followed by bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Not many people I personally know have been diagnosed with coronavirus yet. Hopefully, if we band together as a community and look out for each other, that will remain the case. But I think the fact of the matter is, we’re all grieving on some level as we move deeper into this global pandemic. While our responses are hopefully less negative than Bookstore Lady, I think we should all be giving ourselves time and space to explore these feelings instead of pushing them away or letting them fester. Grief isn’t a straightforward thing, and navigating novel feelings about a novel virus might not be straightforward either.

Personally, I’ve been grieving in small ways for many things. Grief for the little old lady at the grocery store who couldn’t buy toilet paper. Grief for the people who felt so overwhelmed by this situation the only way they knew how to cope was to hoard toilet paper. Grief for the high school students whose proms and graduations have been cancelled. Grief for the victims of domestic abuse for whom quarantine is a new nightmare. Grief for all those who will die from this disease. And ultimately, grief for a world that cannot help but be irrevocably changed by all this.

(If you aren’t feeling grief or aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be grieving, that’s okay too.)

So if you’re not okay, give yourself space to not be okay. My husband has been throwing himself into work. Personally, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus enough to work much. A friend confessed she’s rented two or three movies in the past week only to let the rental periods lapse without finishing the movies. Meanwhile I’ve actually been making a dent in my long-standing “movies-to-watch-someday” list because it’s one of the few things I can concentrate on.

Baking. Working out. Staring at the wall. Reading. Cleaning. Complaining online. Facetiming loved ones. Whatever makes you feel more okay, do that. Whatever makes you feel less okay? Skip it.

Obviously a lot of us still have responsibilities during this difficult time. Jobs, kids, pets, bills–the world is still turning. But in case you needed someone to tell you that being not okay is okay? Consider yourself told.

This will pass. We’ll be okay again. But until that happens, I hope you’ll give yourself the space to grieve what was while we try to make space for what is, and what someday will be. Stay strong out there!

Doing What You Love

There’s a saying I hear a lot as a writer that I’ve come to really hate. It goes: make a career of something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

*incorrect buzzer sound* Wrong answer! In fact, whenever confronted with this annoying adage I usually argue the opposite is true. Because I have pursued my passion as a career, it actually means more to me than the average day job. Which is not to denigrate day jobs, of which I’ve had many. But I’ve invested not only time and effort into becoming an author, but also a bit of my own soul made manifest in paper and ink and many, many words.

Writing is work. Hard work. But what I think that saying is driving at is this: when you make a career out of something you love, you should be able to find some measure of joy in it every day. And sometimes I wonder whether I’ve lost the joy that brought me to writing in the process of trying to monetize my passion.

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. My mom recently found a handwritten story I wrote when I was six or seven–illustrated and bound with yarn–about a clever farmer’s wife who tied chickens to pigs in order to trick her useless husband into doing chores. By the time I was nine, I was filling notebooks full of rambling tales about a warrior princess named Jade and her faithful unicorn steed. By twelve or so, I somehow acquired an old typewriter and spent long hours clickety-clacking away on its half stuck keys (I’m sure my parents were sooo proud). In high school, I wrote such excellent essays that my Lang/Lit teacher frequently asked me to read them aloud to the class (why yes I was the teacher’s pet, why do you ask?).

Writing was a hobby, a passion, a joy, a solace–something I did in my spare time because I wanted to. Because I loved it. Hardly anyone read anything I wrote, and it didn’t occur to me to want it any other way. Because I wasn’t doing it for anyone but myself.

And then I took a fateful elective Creative Writing class my junior year of college. And when we workshopped my first short story, all the other students loved it. They compared my writing to F. Scott Fitzgerald, my favorite author at the time. Words like “provacative” and “professional” were thrown around. And when the professor returned his feedback he stapled a list of literary journals to the front with the suggestion that I submit to them when I was ready.

And so a monster was born. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to write for just me anymore. I kept writing–private diary entries and short stories no one read and the seeds of some of the books I would later write in earnest–but it wasn’t quite the same. A voice in the back of my head kept whispering: what if you could do this as a job? And suddenly, the reason for writing shifted, minutely at first and then irrevocably, until I wasn’t doing it for myself at all but all the faceless people who might one day read my words.

I’ve written about my journey to publication in other posts, so I won’t reiterate here. It was a long trek, and a lot of hard work, and I’m proud of everything I learned and everything I accomplished. I’m not complaining. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to pursue my passion, and reached some measure of success with it.

But success is a funny word to define. I remember when I first started seriously writing, I used to tell myself: if I can just finish a novel, I’ll be happy. That seemed enough. Later, when I was neck deep in the query trenches trying to get my first few novels published, the mantra became: if I can just sign with an agent, I’ll be happy. Eventually, that too came to pass. Then it was: if only I can sell a book, if only I can sell its sequel, if only if only if only if only…

When does it end? When will it all finally be enough to “make me happy?” If my books hit the NYT Bestseller’s list, will that be enough? If my books are translated into every human language, will that be enough? If my books are ejected into space as a symbol of the sum of human arts and culture for visiting extraterrestrials, will that be enough?

Enough is enough. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s time to get back to basics. I have to find a way to make writing about the writing again. It’s going to be hard–the fact of the matter is, I am a published author now. Other people do read my writing and will continue to do so (at least I hope they will). I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to forget that my words don’t belong just to me anymore. But I want to try to have them start out that way, at least.

Why did little Lyra write stories about clever farmer’s wives and spunky princesses and talking unicorns? I don’t know. But she didn’t do it because anyone was going to read it. She didn’t do it because the plot was marketable or the characters were trendy. She didn’t do it because she was on deadline and just had to write something. She did it because she loved it.

I want to learn to love what I do again. I don’t know yet what I’m going to write, but when I do write it…I think it might have to be just for me.

Best Hate-to-Love Romances

I’m a sucker for romance. There’s nothing I love more than a good love story, where a swoon-worthy gentleman does everything he can to win the hand of his special lady/gentleman. And the only thing that makes all that better is when the two love interests start out as bitter, bitter enemies. It’s a trope, but I love it–especially when it includes banter, misunderstood intentions, and loads of sexual tension.

So, this is my paean to all the handsome fictional boyfriends out there who also start out the protagonist’s antagonist. We love to hate to love you!

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett, from Pride & Prejudice

I think I am safe in saying Darcy and Elizabeth epitomize the hate-to-love romance genre. I mean, it’s in the title! Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy from the get-go, and with pretty good reason–or so we think. It’s not long before their opinions of each other begin to shift, but not before we’re treated to some really delightful shade on Elizabeth’s part.

Rating: From “not handsome enough to tempt me” to “you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” in only 33 chapters.

Damianos and Laurent, from the Captive Prince Trilogy

When Prince Damianos of Akielos has his throne usurped, he’s sold into slavery to the crown prince of Vere, his sworn enemy. Fortunately (and occasionally unfortunately) for everyone concerned, Laurent is beautiful, cruel, and fiendishly intelligent. And he’s not about to let Damen forget where he came from–or what they both stand for.

Rating: three books’ worth of devious, delicious mind games and beautiful boys

Vikram and Gauri, from A Crown of Wishes

Exiled princess Gauri and foundling prince Vikram team up reluctantly to win a supernatural contest and unite their kingdoms. But they really can’t stand each other. Until an ordeal including magic apples, serpent kings, and poisoned courtesans forces them to stop arguing for like two seconds and work together…

Rating: “You spend an awful amount of time looking at my
lips.”
“That’s only because I’m horrified at the sheer idiocy of the words
leaping out of them.” 

Alex and Henry, from Red, White, and Royal Blue

Alex is the first son of the United States. Henry is an English prince. Really, need I say more?

Rating: tack room assignations and late-night ice-cream

Jude and Cardan, The Cruel Prince

Wow, I’m only just realizing how many princes are making it onto this list. Sorry not sorry.

Jude is a mortal girl living in Faerie after her parents were brutally murdered. Cardan is the wicked, handsome, wastrel prince who’s like 6th in line to the throne. He torments her endlessly. She plots her revenge. And revenge is best served…hot and bloody?

Rating: she’ll only kiss him with a knife held to her throat…or is it his throat?

Sunder and Mirage, from Amber & Dusk

Shameless plug! When Mirage arrives at the Amber Court, she doesn’t know who to trust, but she has a pretty good idea who not to trust–the haughty lord with knives in his fingertips and deceit in his soul. But it’s not long before their fates are hopelessly entangled…

Rating: I’m biased because I wrote it to be everything I wanted in an enemies-to-lovers romance!

Do you have a favorite hate-to-love romance? Let me know in the comment section below!

Unexpected Origins of Christmas

I had a bit of an unusual upbringing, religion-wise. My parents were both lapsed Catholics by way of 70’s-era hippie-inspired Buddhism, with a generous helping of mid-90’s Wicca to further complicate the mix. I was raised in a household that celebrated God, the Goddess, saints, fairies, reincarnation, Greek mythology, the full moon, Hanukkah, transcendental meditation, Sufi dancing, and Christmas. We learned a lot about all religions, without ever really ascribing to any particular one ourselves.

It may sound confusing, but in all honesty it was freeing. Throughout my childhood, I was able to experience elements of all global religions without the pressure to worship anything at all. Religious belief was more of a scholarly pursuit to me, and I was able to hand-pick the elements of religion I felt personally drawn to, and reject the ones I didn’t.

What resulted is a lifelong fascination with religion. The winter holiday season is an especially compelling topic for me, partially because I love Christmas but also because holiday-wise, Christmas is one of the most complex in terms of its religious roots. Whenever a conservative pundit cries “War on Christmas” I have to laugh, because so much of what we consider to be “Christmas” is, in fact, not very Christian at all.

Midwinter Madness

The most ancient and perhaps most important precursor to Christmas is, of course, the winter Solstice–the longest night of the year, before the earth slowly tilts back toward the sun. Most human cultures have celebrated midwinter in some form or another–Shab-e Yalda, Toji, and Dong-Zhi are just a few of the non-Western traditions surrounding the Solstice.

For the ancient Romans, this midwinter festival was called Saturnalia, named for the god Saturn. Saturnalia was celebrated by feasts, the giving of gifts, and symbolic role-reversals. 700 years after Saturnalia was first celebrated, on December 25th, the Emperor Aurelian consecrated the temple of Sol Invictus, creating a holiday called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the Birthday of the Sun – officially elevating the Sun to the highest position among the gods.

It wasn’t til around 350 AD that Pope Julius I officially declared December 25th to mark the birth of Christ. There was no evidence that was the actual day of birth; to the contrary, the gospel of Luke, says: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Shepherds usually watch their flock by night during lambing season, which is the spring. Hmmmm….

O Tannenbaum

As early Christians moved into Northern Europe and introduced the story of Christ to the native Germanic and Celtic peoples, the practices of Christmas were influenced by the practices of those peoples for their winter solstice holidays. Traditions like the Yule log, mistletoe, tree decorating, and evergreen wreaths were soon absorbed or combined with existing Christian beliefs.

One anecdote tells of Germanic tribes who worshipped coniferous trees in winter, believing that their ever-green leaves spoke of a supernatural holiness. Saint Boniface supposedly came upon one such ritual, and wanting to evangelize to the locals, directed their attention to a spruce tree, whose triangular shape more closely resembled the Holy Trinity. Some say this is the origin of our modern-day Christmas tree!

Very Merry Gentleman (and Ladies)

Modern-day Christmas is very subdued compared to Medieval celebrations of the holiday (even if you enjoy your eggnog!). After a month-long period of fasting and penitence, the 12 Days of Christmas were a truly festive time of feasting and revelry, lasting from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. One tradition involved drunks (often dressed as the opposite gender) running down the streets and banging on doors, demanding to be fed lest they loot the house. This two-week bender was so despicable to some that the Puritans attempted to have Christmas banned altogether in 17th century England!

Thanks, Pop Culture

The Puritans thankfully couldn’t keep Christmas at bay forever. But Christmas was primed for a reinvention, and the Victorians happily obliged. So many of the things we associate with Christmas today were popularized by the Victorians: colorful toys, wrapping paper, Christmas cards, and caroling were all part of the new old holiday.

But two seminal works of literature really brought Christmas into the modern era. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, helped transform Santa Claus from a minor 4th century saint (sometimes associated with Odin himself) into the chimney-spelunking, jolly old elf we all know today. Then, Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel A Christmas Carol (reportedly conceived for the author to make a quick buck) redefined the holiday as a sentimental time of family, food, and good-feeling.

And as a more secular version of Christmas gained in popularity the world over, the more prosaic forces of capitalism and pop culture took the reins. From Coca-Cola’s famous reinvention of Santa Claus as a red-suited jocular old man, to Bing Crosby’s war-nostalgia musical White Christmas, to the Hallmark Channel’s derivative holiday movie spam, Christmas in any era can start to feel too commercialized. But in reality, Christmas is a celebration that has its origins in humanity’s earliest cultures, gathering new meanings and rituals through time. And when you strip away all the cultural trappings, this winter festival celebrates what winter festivals have always celebrated: the triumph of light over darkness and the strength of the human spirit.

And that, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas.

DIAMOND & DAWN Preorder Campaign

It’s really wild for me to say this, but DIAMOND & DAWN, the sequel to AMBER & DUSK, hits shelves next week on December 3rd! It feels like no time since I was furiously drafting during last year’s NaNoWriMo, trying to get a disastrous first draft together in time for a tight January deadline. A year later, and a book I’m really proud of is finally coming out. I’m so excited to share this book with my readers!

So excited, in fact, that I’ve decided to run a preorder campaign! I’ve posted about this on my other social media platforms, but thought I’d share with you all in case you don’t follow me on teh interwebz. I curated some really fun goodies based on reader recommendations, so I hope you’ll participate!

All you have to do is preorder DIAMOND & DAWN! This includes hardbacks, ebooks, and even library requests! Then, email your proof of purchase along with your full name and mailing address to: preorderdiamondanddawn (at) gmail (dot) com.

ALL preorders will receive:

• Five (5) stunning full-color character cards designed and illustrated by the wildly talented @phantomrin AND a signed bookplate to personalize your copy of D&D! (This bookplate will match perfectly with those included with AMBER & DUSK in last December’s Unicorn Crate and Shelflove Crate!)

ONE grand prize winner will receive all the goodies pictured below:
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• custom “Coeur d’Or” candle from @book_and_jane that smells like sandalwood, fig, and ~intrigue~ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
• custom “Ambric Illusion” essential oil bath potion from @tansyandvine that will unlock your highest potential
• amber sun pendant with chain
• exclusive copy of AMBER & DUSK, hand annotated by ME! I’m going to fill this copy with all kinds of fun behind-the-scenes content like deleted lines, what inspired elements of the story, and what my writing process is like!

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The last day to submit is 12/9/19, one week AFTER D&D hits shelves! That means in-store purchases during the first week of sales will qualify for these goodies! International entries welcome.
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Thank you so, so much to everyone who pre-orders! Pre-orders are invaluable to authors. When you pre-order a book, it signals demand to both bookstores and publishing houses. Know that I’m forever grateful for your support, and I hope you love DIAMOND & DAWN just as much as you loved AMBER & DUSK! Scroll down for the cover, synopsis, and a sneak peek excerpt!

Synopsis:

Lyra Selene returns to the incandescent magic of Amber & Dusk in a second installment about the corrosions of even the most dazzling dreams, and the strength of hope amidst darkness.

Mirage, triumphant in her coup of the Amber Empire, returns to the palais prepared to take her place as empress. With the support of her friends and a tentative, blossoming romance with Sunder, Mirage is on the cusp of taking hold of everything she has ever wanted.

However, her place in the sun is not as sure as she expected, nor is it quite as bright as she imagined.

When the Empress Severine’s body was recovered from the battle, Mirage discovered she was not dead after all. Rather, Severine is in a coma, her every breath a threat to Mirage’s newfound power. Worse, a distant cousin, Gavin d’Ars, appears at court with the challenge of his blood claim. As Mirage uncovers more secrets from her family’s past, she proposes a series of ancient, grueling trials to determine the most deserving heir. But in Mirage’s fight to defend her vision for the empire, she begins to splinter all of her alliances. Will the battle for control leave anyone untainted?

Excerpt:

I unclenched my fingernails from my palm, crossed to the glass doors, and stepped out onto the wrought-iron balcony beyond. The music of marching wafted up — shod hooves ringing out on cobblestones, the champagne timpani of laughter and trumpets and song. The cortège was nearly the length of the Concordat: a river of riders in uniform — bright red and pale kembric, metal helms and dancing horses. Children ran beside the retinue, and my breath caught in my throat when I saw the soldats tossing coins to the onlookers. The procession was heading straight for Coeur d’Or’s gilded gates, flowing up the shallow steps like a sunlit river.

They finally came close enough for me to make out faces, and that’s when I saw him.

He rode tall and straight at the head of the procession on a prancing chestnut stallion. Even from here I could tell he was handsome — a bright smile laughed in a golden-tan face. Unlike the rest of the riders — who wore pale surcoats splashed in red — he was clad in kembric armor forged so that the sun hammered sparks off it. His dark mahogany hair seemed to glow, as though woven through with threads of ambric.

He shone so bright it was hard to look at him straight on. He looked like —

He looked like the Sun Heir.

“He’s already here,” I breathed.

A wave of sickly heat wafted off Sunder, slapping the back of my neck with the stench of bloody snow and icy metal.

“Here to steal your throne,” Sunder growled.

Where to Purchase:

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

Indiebound
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Take Back the Night

Black clouds scud across the moon, nearly full. The chill breeze has a little…bite to it. A tap-tapping on the window startles you out of your slumber. Perhaps it is only a tree branch, shaking in the wind. Or perhaps it is something else? Someone else? What are they saying, as they lurk outside?

“Let…me…in.”

Although pop culture seems to have something of an on-again, off-again relationship with vampires, I’m a steadfast fan. If there’s a vampire movie, I’ve probably seen it, and I’ve definitely made a dent in the books about them. Some authors *ahemStephenieMeyerahem* tried to make vampires into sexy, brooding vegetarians, but that trend can’t last forever. From the reported reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Renee Ahdieh’s new The Beautiful, to Jay Kristoff’s forthcoming Empire of the Vampire, I predict pop culture is swinging back toward our long-time fascination and obsession with the dark, immortal creatures of the night.

Halloween reminds us that while vampires might be fangtastic, and know how to have a bloody good time, they are ultimately denizens of the night who enjoy violence and murder. So let’s sink out teeth into some of my favorite creepy vampires…

That's what friends are for!
That’s what friends are for!

CarmillaCarmilla

Beautiful, languid, and mysterious, Carmilla insinuates herself into the lives of innocent young women, one at a time. Her mercurial moods and unsettling sexual advances distract her prey from her exotic tastes: the catlike monster that visits them in their nightmares and drinks of their blood is really her. Eventually, each girl wastes away and dies, leaving Carmilla free to find a new female companion. Best friends forever…or until you die.

Edward Cullen, Twilight

One of the most insidious vampires in literature, Edward lures Bella–his teenaged prey–with his brooding demeanor and ascetic lifestyle, then utilizes psychological tactics such as stalking, threat of violence, and abandonment to confuse her and alienate her from her species. Finally, Bella succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome and marries Edward, who is then able to complete his goal: impregnate his human wife with his unnatural half-vampire spawn.

Claudia, Interview with a Vampire

After being sired as a child by her adoptive fathers, Louis and Lestat, Claudia matures into a ruthless, murderous vampire with the face of a doll, who “appears to her victims as a little angel” before luring them to their bloody deaths. In cold blood, Claudia attempts to destroy Lestat by feeding him the poisoned blood of a young boy, and she manipulates Louis into doing various dastardly deeds, including siring an innocent woman so Claudia could have a “mother.” Sugar and spice and everything nice…

80’s vamps slay

Miriam Blaylock, The Hunger

Once every few hundred years Miriam, a vampire whose life began in ancient Egypt, assuages her loneliness by siring a human to be her half-vampire companion and lover. (This century, it’s David Bowie. Swoon.) Together they hunt, feed, and slaughter. But eventually these companions wither away into dusty, bloodless corpses, unable to die yet still conscious and aware. Unable to put her lovers out of their misery, Miriam instead encases the half-living corpses in coffins and keeps them with her for eternity. Talk about skeletons in the closet!

Kurt Barlow, Salem’s Lot

In Stephen King’s classic novel, Barlow is an ancient, master vampire who terrorizes the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot when he invades and quickly begins slaughtering and turning the citizenry. He causes some bad blood by performing human sacrifice before moving on to blood-letting, hostage-taking, murder of the elderly, and finally subversion of religious figures. This vampire really goes for the throat.

"I don't drink...vine."
“I don’t drink…vine.”

Count Dracula, Dracula

Ah yes, Dracula–a vampire who really sucks. After luring Jonathan Harker to his decaying castle in the Carpathian Mountains and subjecting the young man to unnatural penetration by his three vampiric brides, Dracula infiltrates London and begins menacing the beautiful Lucy Westenra and her companion, Mina Murray. He feasts upon Lucy’s blood until she dies and resurrects as a violent vampire herself; then, with so much at stake, Mina falls under the Count’s thrall, betraying her fiance and friends for Dracula’s sake. With his potent combination of sexuality, violence, and aristocratic charm, Dracula rains a dark terror upon London, and imparts a lasting and toothsome legacy to Western Literature.

Do you have any favorite vamps? Take a bite out of our comment section, fang you!

Surviving Criticism

In the play Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde’s Lord Darlington famously says, “A critic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” This assessment may seem harsh to some, but I would wager that anyone who has ever created anything for public consumption might be nodding their heads just a little.

As a writer, reviews of the negative persuasion are more or less inevitable. And as I approach the one-year anniversary of my debut novel and the upcoming publication of its sequel, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the role of critics in the creation of art, and my relationship as a creator with that criticism.

I’ll be honest–when my book first hit shelves, I obsessively read every review I could find. Kirkus. SLJ. Booklist. Amazon. Goodreads. Book blogs. Bookstagram. If someone was writing about my book, I was going to read it. And honestly, most of the reviews skewed toward the favorable–not all bestowed glowing 5 stars, but most were decent. But every now and then I’d find a real stinker–you know the kind of review I’m talking about. The kind of review that says they would have cared more about the characters if they’d all died. The kind of review that implies the only good thing about the book was when it ended. The kind of review that obsessively lists everything the reader hated about it, in vicious detail.

And I started noticing something. Every negative review I read counted for more in my head than every positive review–it was like the bad completely outweighed the good. And every negative review I read made it that much harder for me to write.

So I put on my big girl pants and stopped reading reviews. I blocked Goodreads in my browser. I asked my editors to stop forwarding me trade reviews. I deleted the google alert for my book title. And I breathed a sigh of relief. But simply going out of my way to not find reviews doesn’t mean they don’t find me. In this age of social media and author-reader interaction, it’s really hard not to stumble across criticism. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been tagged on Twitter or Instagram for really scathing reviews. It can be almost day-ruining to click on a lovely bookstagram photo, only to scroll down to the caption and get slapped in the face with vitriol directed toward a novel you spent years of your life and buckets of love creating.

And I’d be lying if I said that hasn’t taken a toll on my writing. I’ll be in a flow and a really great metaphor will pop into my head. But now, that metaphor will be accompanied by all the critical junk I’ve read: the penchant for metaphor is distracting or ugh, I can’t stand purple prose or the writing was so flowery I DNF’ed 10 pages in. Dialogue, character development, action sequences–it’s gotten to a point where it’s a challenge not to second-guess every element of my own writing.

Okay. Deep breath. And…segue.

I listen to the local classical music radio station a lot when I’m in the car. Recently, the radio host shared an anecdote about the composer Rachmaninoff. Apparently, Rachmaninoff’s first symphony to be publicly performed was received so poorly by critics that he fled the concert hall amid catcalls. One critic compared the piece to the ten plagues of Egypt. “If there was a conservatory in hell, Rachmaninoff would get the first prize for his symphony, so devilish are the discords he places before us,” newspaper critic Cesar Cui sneered.

Rachmaninoff was crushed, and stopped composing completely.

“Something within me snapped,” the composer wrote. “All my self-confidence broke down….A paralyzing apathy possessed me. I did nothing at all and found no pleasure in anything.”

It was three years before he was able to compose again. It was ten years before he attempted another symphony. But the piece he composed after his depressed hiatus was his Piano Concerto no. 2, arguably his most famous piece and incidentally, my favorite. He would continue composing for another 45 years, right up until his death.

I’m not sure I’ll ever totally get over receiving negative reviews. But that’s okay. I just need to learn to pick myself up after getting knocked down. To turn the other cheek. To let the good outweigh the bad, instead of the other way around. And most importantly, I just have to keep writing. Because the only way to drown out the critics is to let my work speak for itself.

“Once in a golden hour 
I cast to earth a seed. 
Up there came a flower, 
The people said, a weed.” 
― Alfred Lord Tennyson