Paul F, one of my readers, recently emailed me:
"I just finished Shanghied and I now have an excellent reason to stay out of the S aisle at the library. Horrible, horrible book."
Thank you, Paul. In all honesty, I mean that.
You finished the book. It must have grabbed your attention and held on to it, unless you're some sort of masochist. I, for one, can't finish books that don't hold my attention in some way or another. Life's too short and there are too many books I still want to read before I die and I don't read all that fast.
The book got a strong response from you. The worst possible thing that anyone can ever say about any of my books is along the lines of, "meh, so what?" If you thought that SHANGHAIED was horrible enough to bother writing and telling me so, I must have done something right.
The thing is, as much as I would love cashing the checks that would come from writing books that everybody, universally loves, I would soon become bored writing those books.
One of the main reasons I write is to challenge myself intellectually and creatively. I like to challenge my readers, too. I don't want all of you to love all of my books. I'd feel like I was failing to accomplish what I want to do as a writer, if that was the case.
Now don't get me wrong. I am pleased as punch that most of the reviews of all of my books have been positive; many of them positively glowing. And yes, my ego does enjoy being stroked by fan letters and starred reviews. When a reader came up to me at an event and told me that the copy of GRAVE IMPORTS they brought along with them on a trip to Cambodia made their trip a whole lot better, I just about swooned with delight.
But I like the bad reviews, too. I especially like intelligent, well-reasoned bad reviews. I've learned from some of them. (Perhaps if the majority of my reviews were bad, I wouldn't be so calm about it.)
Now Paul didn't tell me why he thought SHANGHAIED was a, "Horrible, horrible book." I wish that he had. But simply knowing that he actually finished it inspite of itself, and that it provoked a strong reaction from him, is enough to make me happy.
Here's what I wrote back:
Sorry you feel that way. I’m surprised you finished it. Still, I never wanted to write books that everybody likes. I like writing books that get strong reactions from their readers, and Shanghaied has certainly got plenty of those – both good and bad.
Thanks for reading it in any event, and for letting me know what you thought.
Hmmmm, I hope that response didn't make him mad.
And, to finish off this post with some pics, here's a couple from a walk I recently took, following a route laid out in my friend Charles Fleming's new book, which I highly recommend: SECRET STAIRS: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. (That link is to Skylight Books, Charles' and my neighborhood bookstore and a truly splendid place.) If you must order it from Amazon instead (better to order it from Skylight), here's that link.
And, I also recently attended the launch party for the latest anthology of short fiction, MURDER IN LA LA LAND, put out by the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime, of which I am a proud member (and director of the Speakers Bureau.) I was also one of the editors of the anthology.