Mousetrapped will be out a year on March 29 and I think it’s high time for a second edition. The beauty of using POD to produce your book is that you can do this at any time by simply uploading new files, which I intend to do in time for its first birthday. There’s a few ickle typos I want to amend, a table of contents I want to pull out and some other little things I want to put in. I’m also changing the back cover – the way it is now was my idea but I’ve always felt, looking at it, that it is a bit on the simplistic side and edging every so slightly towards the obviously-self-published.
Ultimately my goal is to produce the best product I can, which is why my mind now turns to reviews.
Now I’m not complaining; I’ve had overwhelmingly positive reviews and I thank everyone who took the time to even write a sentence about what they thought about my book. But – of course – the ones I can recite word for word are the bad ones, the negative and occasionally nasty reviews written by people who weren’t impressed, found Mousetrapped boring, ‘didn’t like being lectured’ or all of the above.
I read a blog post once that described the relationship between novelist and editor and how you were supposed to know which of you was right when a change was suggested or vetoed. The blog’s author said that you just know: the suggestion resonates with you; it settles in your gut; it illuminates something that perhaps you knew already but were keeping down. It makes sense.
Recently I had a meeting with Someone Important about Novel No.1 (don’t get excited; no news to report) that up until I went to the meeting, I thought was pretty hot shit. Everything can be improved upon, obviously, but I couldn’t see any major flaws in it. But then this Someone asked me a question (this won’t make any sense to you but it was ‘Who is the joke on?’) and it was like a sucker punch to the gut. Or in a less violent scenario, a blindfold torn away. Who was the joke on? I didn’t know. And in that instant, I could see what was wrong with the book. It made perfect sense to me.
But it works both ways. When someone says something you know comes down purely to personal taste and isn’t fact, it’s like water off a duck’s back.
My bad reviews all seem to say one of (or all of!) three things:
- It’s boring. (‘The chapter on Kennedy Space Centre reads like an unending Wikipedia entry.’)
- It’s not a negative Disney exposé, which is what they were expecting.
- I lecture my readers about Atheism.
Now first of all – boring? One bad reviewer said that I went on and on about the Space Shuttle launch and left out what ‘seemed like far more interesting’ stories, such as how I ended up going to the airport in a stretch limo. Well, I ended up in the limo because I’d left my boarding card at work, and had to leave my car parked there for the weekend as I’d no time to park it at the airport and instead of getting a taxi I was able to catch a ride from a friend at the hotel who happened to be one of our limo drivers. Now is that really more exciting than a spaceship taking off from the earth? Really? Because if you really think so, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Second of all, no, I didn’t work for Disney directly but I worked in a hotel operated by a third party steps from Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and across the street from Disney MGM-Studios. All staff had to attend Traditions, Disney’s orientation program. We said ‘costume’ instead of uniform and I was a ‘Cast Member’ not an employee. I did work in Walt Disney World. And ‘Mousetrapped’ – which one reviewer called ‘a lie’ – actually referred to being trapped geographically in Disney World. Last time I checked that word didn’t mean ’employed by the Walt Disney Company’. If you’re going to review my book based on how it squared with your erroneous expectations instead of what it actually is, then I can’t help you either.
But while I don’t take any notice of the complaints above, something niggles at me when readers say things like, ‘Well, I wasn’t expecting a lecture on Atheism!’ At first I dismissed them too but over time I’ve come to wonder if perhaps they have a point.
If you haven’t read the book, there is a chapter towards the end where I visit a religious theme park in Orlando. To put my reaction in context, I explain that I’m an Atheist and I talk a little bit about how that came about. It’s written in the exact same way as the rest of the book which (I hope!) is light, funny and self-deprecating. Then, at the very end of it, after I’ve left the theme park, is this:
“When people of faith discover that you’re an atheist, they inevitably adopt a tone of twoparts incredulity and three parts condescension and demand that you explain, as a supposed spokesperson for All of Science, what they consider to be the great mysteries of the universe.
‘So where do you think we came from, then?’
‘What about all the miracles?’
‘What about people who’ve died and seen a bright white tunnel with their loved ones at the end of it?’
‘How do you know what’s right and what’s wrong?’
‘If there is no God, then what’s it all for?’
I can’t really answer these questions although I’ll try: See The Big Bang, primordial soup and evolution for question one; I’ll start taking miracles seriously when someone miraculously regenerates an amputated limb; no one who has actually died for real, i.e. died and stayed that way, has been able to tell us about bright lights, tunnels, etc. and these images could well be the hallucinations or symptoms of a dying brain; are you saying that the only reason you don’t rape or murder is because you fear the judgment of God if he caught you doing it?; it’s for life, to see the world and everything in it, to be lucky enough to be here feeling the full spectrum of the human experience – love, joy, friendship – for as long as it lasts. More to the point, I don’t need to answer them because I don’t believe in anything. I’m not the one carrying the burden of proof.
If I came to you and said that last night three little green men flew in through my bedroom window, abducted me and took me aboard their alien mothership for an unpleasant medical exam and you said it was a dream I had, on whom would be the onus to prove they were telling the truth?
Just because many people believe a particular thing and it has been believed for a long, long time doesn’t make it fact. There was a time when everyone on earth, including its greatest minds, believed it was flat.
Moreover, I don’t want to talk about it. Asking me to talk about religion is like asking me to talk about my career in the army – neither of them exist in my life, so why even ask?
The only other thing I will say about this atheist business is that the contempt, hatred and scorn directed towards us scares and upsets me. Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, regularly gets death threats – which doesn’t seem very Christian to me – and there’s many a ‘F*%k Atheists’ group on Facebook and in real life.
People of faith seem to think that theists can’t be anything other than blasphemous sinners who habitually lie, swear, cheat, steal, drink, take drugs, have sex before marriage, work on Sundays and kill people. But we’re not evil. We’re as good if not better than our religious counterparts.
I know that I, for one, am just lovely.”
This is different to the rest of the chapter, which starts with me wondering where Jurassic Park meets The Bible, then goes on to describe the whole ‘Happy Holidays’ debacle and Creationism in schools debate that Central Florida was experiencing over Christmas 2006, and then moves to the religious theme park. I think this bit (above) IS a lecture, or at least reads like one. I thought it was balancing out the chapter, a counteraction to the arguments I knew would be rising up in readers’ minds, but now I think it’s just leaving them with a bad taste in their mouths.
When I read or hear people say they don’t like this or it seems out of place, it’s like that ‘Who is the joke on?’ question all over again. It makes sense to me.
So I’m considering taking it out. Not the entire chapter, just the bit reprinted above. Instead it will end with me being told ‘Be blessed’ by an employee of the religious theme park in the same way Disney Cast Members bid you a ‘Have a magical day.’ But before I do, I’d love some feedback. So tell me:
What do YOU think?
Should I just leave it the way it is? I am pandering to the vocal few instead of taking into consideration the silent majority? Or is leaving that bit doing a disservice to the rest of the book? Leave a comment below or email me via the Contact page, pretty please.
P.S. Fun fact: the ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ chapter was originally supposed to end like this: “I know that I, for one, am just lovely. But now I better go. I’ve a Sunday morning drug-fueled f–king orgy to get to.” Can you imagine the reviews then?!