I have to say, the general reception for the Hard Cider Abbey series has been positive, despite the gray cloud of Church scandal that hangs over it and everything I write. But every once and a while, I get a puzzling review that focuses on the quality of the editing. I say ‘puzzling,’ because all my books are rigorously edited; I’ve been writing and teaching English grammar for well near four decades now, so I’m not apt to suddenly become remiss in that area. Moreover, Hard Cider Abbey was pretty much vetted, quality-wise, in the process of being reviewed for Publisher’s Weekly. It is a very rigorous process, especially for self-published authors, which is why so few get reviewed in that publication. It takes place in stages, and if it were indeed lacking in any way or contained more than the usual number of typos (every book has them), it would have been dropped immediately. But in my case, the review made it to the printed page, on September 10, 2019: And they liked it!
But a recent (reader) review haughtily called me to task for errors, typos and editing lapses, and it felt to me like a form of literary gas-lighting. I’ve noticed on the writer-forums, this seems to be a growing “thing”—calling out an independent writer based on alleged typos or grammatical mistakes. This kind of criticism is especially and exquisitely designed to assail a writer’s sense of confidence and well-being. I try to ignore this sort of pettiness—it generally says more about the reviewer than the work—but I was genuinely puzzled about the reviewer’s motives. Was it a competitor of mine? A failed novelist? An editor looking for work? Maybe, a disgruntled monk!
And then, while editing my upcoming book, it hit me: I’m not the ungrammatical one. My characters are! Brothers Emerick and Odo may be great guys, but their English does leave much to be desired: Emerick with his relative lack of schooling and Appalachian dialect, and Odo, hampered by being a native French/Quebecois speaker. Odo tends to omit words, articles such as “a” and “the”, and uses the wrong tense, defaulting often to present tense. I learned from teaching ESL that these are all errors common to students struggling to learn English; verbs especially are killers. But these mistakes in grammar are what help define these characters. It’s who they are. It’s their truth. And if certain readers and reviewers want to get huffy about it…there’s nothing I can do about that. You’d think an enlightened reader would realize the difference between a character being ungrammatical and an author being so, but some folks will find any excuse to be ornery.
That said, it is a tricky thing, writing true-to-life characters. It’s very easy to go overboard, and I think I did, a bit, in book one; but I struggled to not to make anyone a caricature. It’s not satire, after all. I have spent a fair amount time in the South and Appalachia, and as a lifelong student of language, couldn’t help but pick up on unique speech patterns and pronunciations. The dialect of Appalachia is extraordinarily rich and inventive, and just full of history and life. No one is apt to wax so rhapsodically over my central-Connecticut brand of English!
I’ve made a vow, for 2019, to avoid certain forms of stress, which for me means to stop reading my reviews, or at the very least, taking them to heart. I’m just going to write what I’m meant to write, and in the way it’s meant to be written. Happy New Year!