Whenever I see my writer friends react to reviews, I’m reminded of a certain Gary Larson cartoon:
Owner says to dog: “Get the stick, Rusty! Come on, get the stick! Good dog, Rusty! Isn’t Rusty a good boy!”
Dog hears: ” – – – – – Rusty! – – – – – – – – – – Rusty! – – – – Rusty! – – -.”
But it’s not our names that we writers get all hyper-aware about in reviews. It’s the snark.
Here’s an example: I once wrote to congratulate a friend of mine whose new novel had just received a fabulous, glowing review in Publisher’s Weekly. She wrote me back a one-word email: “Overwrought?!?!?!”
Oops. I hadn’t noticed that one bit of snark among all the praise. I had read the following words, “This extraordinary and accomplished novel, while overwrought in places, is hands-down one of the best books written this year, maybe of all time!” But my friend had seen only, “- – – – – – – – – overwrought – – – -!”
This Rusty-dog-like vision is why when writers see emails from their publishers with the subject header KIRKUS REVIEW, we flinch a bit. Okay, we flinch a lot. Kirkus must have some sort of snark-inclusion rule in their guidelines, and their anonymous reviewers follow this rule with relish. Even in their most positive reviews, there is always at least one damn phrase guaranteed to gets up the author’s nose.
Being as Rusty-dog-like as the next writer, I remember exactly two words from the
Kirkus School Library Journal review of Uglies: “although lengthy.” (Gads. It’s that “although” that kills me. Like “lengthy” things are such a trial. “Although lengthy, my vacation was very enjoyable.” “Although lengthy, our marriage is a true union of two souls.” “Although lengthy, World War II defeated facism and saved democracy.” Argh.)
So when my upcoming Kirkus review of Peeps appeared in my in-box, I braced myself. (Plot purists take note, mild spoilers.)
(STARRED) Both medical thriller and science fiction, this fast-paced, captivating modern vampire story is enriched with biology and history. Nineteen-year-old Cal is a hunter. He works for the Night Watch, New York City’s clandestine organization to capture “peeps,” “parasite positive” people infected with an ancient disease that causes vampirism. They’re cannibalistic, violent and wildly strong. Cal tracks his line of contagion: an exgirlfriend, whom he unwittingly infected, and then his progenitor, the girl who gave it to him. Yes, Cal has the parasite, but he’s a carrier rather than a full-blown peep. Forced into secrecy and celibacy but possessing peeplike superhuman senses and strength, Cal simmers with adrenaline. He succeeds at his job in the dank, oppressive urban undergrounds, but he discloses secrets to an unauthorized, uninfected girl his age who becomes inextricably involved. Conspiracy issues arise; the parasite’s centuries-long history holds a profound revelation. Westerfeld intersperses relevant chapters on how various real-life parasites operate in nature. Entrancing throughout–but squeamish readers beware. (afterword, bibliography) (Science fiction. YA) (Aug 1 issue)
Rusty says: Not much snark here at all! In fact, it seems that the snark-quota was entirely expended in the phrase, “but squeamish readers beware.”
But this is good snark, because it will bring the non-squeamish running in droves! So when I performed my second writerly duty (after snark hunting) and cut the review down to a jacket blurb, here’s what I came up with:
This fast-paced, captivating modern vampire story is enriched with biology and history. Entrancing throughout–but squeamish readers beware.
See? The snark is in the jacket quote! Hah! Snark on that, anonymous Kirkus-oid!
My only regret is that they didn’t put an exclamation point after the word “beware.” That would have been much cooler. Maybe I’ll just, you know, add one. Who would notice?
ONE MORE THING: The release date for Peeps has been moved up to August 25. That’s four weeks and three days from now!
ONE OTHER MORE THING: Kirkus reviewers are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings in the whole world. Any implied disrespect was for humorous purposes only. ‘Nuff said.
UPDATE! (in the sense of humiliating retraction)
OMG! I just got an email from my no-longer-anonymous Kirkus reviewer. (Not anonymous to me, anyway. I shall name no names.) She informs me that those haunting words “although lengthy” are actually . . . not from Kirkus! That review was from School Library Journal.
Mea culpa, oh, quasi-anonymous one!
It just goes to show you that although memories can be haunting, they don’t have to be, you know, accurate. So, like I said, Kirkus reviewers are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings in the whole world. And this time, it is meant without the Manchurian Candidate vibe.