After he had told me everything he thought was wrong with my book, he suggested I should withdraw it from publication, rewrite it, and try again.
At first, he had not known what became of one of the characters. I e-mailed him a list of page numbers which described the character’s demise. Then last night, he said he thought I had published BYLINE too soon. The characters were not developed, he said, and there was no suspense in the book, and why didn’t I do more with the villain’s grandmother? He didn’t find anything to like.
I was curiously unmoved. “So what do you think?” he asked.
“I think I’m done with that book. I’m already working on something else,” I said. The whole thing made me glad I had not agreed to do any book signings.
I have had some generous five-star reviews from my friends. And I’ve had suggestions from others. The main character was too ingenuous, one said. She had worked on school newspapers; she should have known more about the big metropolitan newspaper. The story about the centaur was too long, another said. I killed off her parents too soon, someone said. There were too many characters. Who were all those people?
It should have been longer, someone said. A few people read the book in one sitting; others apparently couldn’t finish it.
It made me think of a college production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni a friend once directed. He made the opera a Gothic horror story, murky, dark, sinister. Nobody understood what he was after, and a lot of people had a lot of criticism to offer. “Nobody once asked me what I was trying to do,” he said.
“What did you learn from this experience?” Last night’s critic wanted to know.
“I learned that everybody reads differently,” I said.
I thought about something my friend Sue said in response to an earlier spate of criticism. “I suppose you didn’t write the book he wanted to read,” she said, kindly.