Mud and critical feedback

This ended up being longer than I planned. It was suppose to be about the troubles of finding a good critique on a novel and pulling posts out of the ground using naught but my strength (and physics). But, the first bit got a tad long so I'm throwing this behind a lj-cut.

Even though I was feeling less than springy today, I had to get a small segment of a fence removed from my front yard. Not too impressive, it was only four posts and a couple crossbars, but the city gave me a violation in February and told me I had until Monday to fix it. The "correct" way to fix it was to repair and repaint it, but Fluffy and I didn't want the fence anyways, so our correct was the pull it out. This lead to me pulling a two meter post out straight up. Ignoring the mud, water, and the hole I made, it still felt pretty good, like I was stronger than I remember myself being.

That isn't entirely true. I know I can easily pick up around one-fifty without too much trouble, life Smokey (or Dante) one-handed and they were seventy pounds each. But, I remember still being a 99 pound senior in High School who only succeeded in gym because they thought I was female for three and a half years. Strength training as never been one of my strengths, so its nice to realize I can pull posts out of the ground with nothing but my own strength (and an appropriate application of fulcrums, science, and common senses).

I'll take the little things where I can get them.

I had another surprise today also. This one... was not as nice. I finished Wind, Bear, and Moon in 2005. It was for the Five Star Books, like Muddy Reflections and was their first rejection (we don't do Young Adult) for me. When I did finish but before I sent it, I asked a bunch of friends to edit it and read through it and give me opinions. Some of them have editing services as part of their job where we all work. I got a couple edits for the first five chapters but nothing beyond. (Have you ever noticed that the amount of corrections drops sharply after the first hundred pages? Even for professionals?) Of the six people who read it, I pretty much got a "it's pretty good" or "I like it." Basically, ego-boosting responses but utterly useless for dealing with improving the story or my craft. I got one slightly negative one, "I didn't like the main character." That wasn't as great, but I tried to soften it up.

I did get a couple points of confusion from Fluffy which I corrected and DD hated the ending. Which was perfectly fine, I despise neat endings in my stories. I like them to be left with a point that leaves people wondering what happens next. But, for WBM, the ending was too short and DD requested I rework it. So, I did.

That was it, for almost a year and a half.

Today, I mentioned that I was changing the novel over to fit the same world as Muddy Reflections. The lady who said she didn't like a character looked at me and said with a perfectly straight face.

I would hope so, it needs it.

The way she said it, gave me the impression she thought it was a horrible story. Then, she told me it was a horrible story. Why she didn't say that over a year ago, I'm not really sure why. I bit back this feeling of depression and asked more questions.

It came down to she didn't like one of the three main characters, Welf. Actually, from her point of view, there is only one main character and that was Welf since I introduced him first. Because she felt he had no positive or redeeming virtues, the entire story was a complete waste of time. Apparently, I was suppose to know that from "I didn't like the main character" I should have heard "this novel was a waste of time and a horrible story."

Again, why didn't she tell me this when she read it the first time?

Sadly, it does point out that using friends to read things isn't really the best thing in the world. They don't feedback, or they don't give it when you need to. Instead, they try to be nice and not hurt your feelings. Or, in the case of my mother, they make changes for the sake of making changes, just to make the pages drip with red ink instead of actually improving or finding the story.

In books about writing, they tell you to get a thick skin. To get ready to have your heart and soul torn out by anyone who reads it critically.

I think I am sad that it doesn't really happen to me. Friends never tell me they hate it... well, except for that one "I hated it" a year and a half later. Fluffy won't but I know why, she's married to me. For others, the closest I got was the word "interesting" which is a terrible way of reviewing any story, poem, or novel. Interesting is a word when you don't like something. It is a word that is to soften the blow, like wrapping a sword in silk before striking with all your strength. I hate that word more than any other word in the English language.

For a while, I was in a writer's group. A couple actually. But, everyone was more obsessed with getting their own stuff read and reviewed that they... basically ignored my stuff for months at a time. After eight months of that, it felt like I was just there to help them instead of following the spirit of the co-op that it was.

I don't get it even from the professionals. I used a editing service for Wind, Bear, and Moon and other works. Except for a minor comment that my characters sigh too much (heh, before that it was moaning too much and before that everyone blinked a lot), it was a great story according to them. And that was for someone I paid over a thousand dollars to properly edit my novel. From publishers, I got "great writing, but we don't publish this genre" for everyone who actually read my stuff. Or, "not our market." For Muddy Reflections, I got the closest I could to something critical from fightertype's mother (an English professor and teacher):

Rough around the edges, but with great potential.

I really want to be a great writer. Actually, I want to be more than a great writer, but when you aim for a goal, aim for the fish's eye not for the fish (how's that for obscure?). But, even in high school, getting critical feedback from the teachers was like pulling teeth. With a pair of pliers. Not that I'm complaining, I like being a writer. Actually, I love being a writer.

I'll take the feedback for what it is, even with the time it took years for someone to tell me. I'm planning on redoing parts of WBM anyways to put it in the world of Fedora. I'll try to make Welf a bit more interesting, which I wanted to do anyways. But, it hurts that someone won't tell me what's wrong until I basically have to pry it out of them. Why couldn't they tell me then, when I was trying seriously to get it published, instead of now when I've already failed? It hurts, in a way, it hurts knowing that I might have had a better chance if they just told me something that was obvious to them but not to me.

Obviously, I need to find a better source of critiques out there. I think, it might be time to focus on just finding someone who will be honest with me, will point out the flaws. Quite some time ago, the other Dylan had an entry in his journal talking about a friend who read one of his novels and felt that a character was completely out of character in one scene (somewhere on the order of "You see a stranger at the bottom of the cursed mountain." "I see your party has no mage." "Well, join us!"). I think, for that moment, I felt a pang of jealousy that he had someone who would tell him that wouldn't work. Or, more importantly, someone who was honest enough to tell him.

I suspect, I'm not looking hard enough either. Is it I only find people I know will shower me with compliments or am I just bad at finding people?