Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I offer you the wana (pronounced vahnah preferably with a cigarette holder in one hand).
The sea urchin. Phylum Echinodermata or "spiney skin."
Don't get close and do not underestimate him. He is small but mighty. Clever at hiding. Positively brilliant at being in the wrong place at the wrong time for this diver. I found the shot of a lifetime. Hovered carefully. A male and female frogfish in the same frame. My leg bent and lowered onto the ocean floor directly on top of forty spines, which were instantly injected deep into my skin. I know there were forty because I counted each puncture as I soaked my leg in steaming bath water to deactivate the protein toxin.
Clumsy of me.
Just like a writer delivering a back handed complement.
Or are they?

3:30 pm and 80 degrees.
The back handed complement. We've all gotten them.
As writers, we seem to get more than our share. There is a perception by some that success is finite. If one does well, another will have to falter. There are fears and traumas that only writers know deep in their souls.
The fear that someone will steal your idea -- that you can't write well enough -- that you'll never be published -- that all the time you spent will go to waste.
In workshops, you see evidence of this in the glances, the licking of the lips, a curving smile hid by a hand when an instructor points out a problem in another's manuscript.
The words might as well be transcribed on foreheads for all to see.
Is my work good enough?
Is it better than his?
Is it better than hers?
I have been the recipient of these barbs.
"Well," I am told. "I mean it's easy enough to write what you write, after all it's just commercial fiction. How hard can that be? I, on the other hand spend hours crafting one sentence. You just jot yours off and you're done."
There are the writers who tell you that they plan and determine exactly what would be more likely to sell and write appropriately. Sometimes luck intervenes but other times not. You see, the passion is missing from their words.
So what then?
I think back handed complements need to be dealt with. Confronted head on like a bee loose in a car. Don't ignore them or they won't ever go away.
"Oh, they are just doing it to be supportive. To be kind. To be honest," you say.
But I ask you what point does it serve?
I have come up with a few phrases that can be used in response. Save them for just these moments, use them wisely. Never let another writer's arrogance put you in your perceived place.
"Could you repeat that please?"
"What exactly did you mean by that?"
"Excuse me?"
Please donate phrases to the common good and make your contribution, today.
I will share my own personal favorite:
"And your point is?"
Kudos to the lovely, bristling sea urchin.
Hip hip hurray!

NOTE: I am extraordinarily jealous that Holly has held TWO (count them, TWO!) contests to great response, so I am holding one of my own.
Offer your best retort to a "writerly back-handed" comment over the next TWO days.
I will evaluate the entries with my friend MARY and have her select a WINNER (You hear that Mary?) so everything is above board and fair.
The Prize?
I will send you a signed ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of Lottery --
Now how arrogant is THAT?


adrienne said...

Oh I just had to write something so I would be the first one!

adrienne said...

And now that that is over with . . . my best retort . . . well I've never managed to come up with something at the moment. Though I have always loved that quote by that author (of course I can't remember who) who was told by a doctor that, "Oh when I retire I plan on writing a novel" to which the author responded something like, "Well when I retire, I plan on becoming a neurosurgeon."

I don't think I'll win, a) because it isn't mine own, and b) because I don't remember the specifics or the exact quote. Oh well. Worth a try!

Maprilynne said...

I have to say, I am always a little bit hesitant to tell people that my book is a classic fantasy because adult women (no offense!) more often than not do this sort of disappointed , "Oh," thing. Like, "Oh, I thought you were writing a real book." Like it's somehow lesser to invent your own history than to study the one we've already lived. (I write historical romance too, so I really like doing them both . . . hmmm, maybe I just like men in flowy shirts and breeches. *laugh*)

I guess the one I like best but haven't been brave enough to use yet is the response to this.

"Oh, so you just make up a bunch of stuff about some new world?"

"Yeah, and the history I wrote down but couldn't work into the novel is the size of an average mystery novel. I just made it up."


ORION said...

Welcome home Adrienne! How was New York?

ChumleyK said...

I am frequently told:

"But you're so smart, you could do anything. Like, be a lawyer or a doctor or something. Are you ever going to get a real job?"

To which I would love to reply:

"You mean one where I work hard to earn money?"

Of course, I never think of things like that at the time.

Anissa said...

I'm appalled that someone would speak to you that way. That people could be so disrespectful. I guess I'm just naive.

In a similar situation...jeez, it's hard to imagine how I'd react. I know what I'd like to hear myself say.

"I'm sorry, did words just come out of your mouth? Cause all I'm hearing is 'blah' 'blah' 'blah.'"

LadyBronco said...

My boss told me once "You know, Rebecca, you will never make as much money doing your little hobby as you will working here."

My reply?

"I make money here?"

L.C.McCabe said...

Here's mine:

"And you've had how many books published?"

Anonymous said...

I can't play this game - I've been so lucky, I guess. No one has put me or my writing down (feeling very left out, lol)
My family is super supportive (they still think I can earn money writing, maybe?) My friends are supportive (well, that's why they're friends, right?) and no one has been condescending.
(Even with my wonderfully trashy erotic romance books!)
But it may happen, so I'm writing down all these great put downs so I'll be armed and dangerous when it happens, lol!

Demon Hunter said...

A writer said: "My writing is the best!"

My reply: "Oh great, you've won! Would you like a cookie now?"

~T. Green

Bernita said...

I suggest "I BEG your pardon," accompanied by Eyes of Death.

Zany Mom said...

I wish I had some retorts.

I've had family annoy me, claiming that I thought I was the next John Grisham (or Dan Brown), which is not true, or that I was claiming to write the great American novel (also not true).

Certain people, who after reading the first one, claimed it was my unfulfilled fantasy (huh?) and my male protag was my 'ideal man'.

I just ignore them. Lately I've had a rash of relatives send me or give me info on self-publishing, because they know/knew someone who got their book published that way (well meaning, but they don't know the industry at all).

Katie said...

I find that a well-placed "I didn't ask" takes the wind out of a lot of situations.

I suppose that even if you did ask, you could use it to confuse the person into silence.

I personally have taken umbrage at someone saying I have a "vivid imagination". Why not just come out and say I'm coloring the walls with magic markers?

millhousethecat said...

You could just go with the old standby:

"When I want your opinion, I'll squeeze your head."

(This is popular among those younger than 13 in my house.)

Maprilynne said...

"When I want your opinion, I'll squeeze your head."

I am SO going to use that some day!!!!


Amy MacKinnon said...

"I take hours crafting one sentence. You just jot yours off and you're done."

Yes, I'm done, I'm published, and I'm paid well. And you?

ORION said...

Oh! So many good comments!
Squeeze the head --hahahaha
here's a cookie -- hahaha
I make money here? hahahha

Anne said...

Okay. No snappy retorts here.

But the left handed compliment theme brings up something I've been thinking about.

Once in a while, I'll come across an endorsement from one author for another's book, and I'm struck by the stinginess of the praise. Sometimes the compliment is so paltry, I have to wonder if the endorser is being porposefully vanilla.

Do you think some authors are really not enthusistic about a book, yet they feel compelled to give an endorsement(for whatever reason)? Could superiority or jealousy at work, too?

Happily, though, I witness more support among authors than the rarer bland endorsement.

Holly Kennedy said...

Oh, Pat, I want an ARC...

Here's mine:
"And you're telling me this because...?"

KRStagliano said...

There's a T-shirt that reads: Be careful what you say to me or I'll put you in my next novel. Of course, I did nothing of the sort (oooh, pardon my nose, did it bump you? So sorry.)

Valentine WordVer: CUPEUDH!

ORION said...


Sam said...

Okay, how about:
"It IS hard to understand for some people."


Once my husband found out that someone was sabotaging his horses. (true story) This person made it into my next book as the villain and died a really awful death. It was...nice. LOL

Maprilynne said...

Okay, I'm going to steal one from my friends and then I really did come up with one of my own!:)

My friend has three kids and is a multi-published author and people will ask her, "How do you find the time to write." To which she glibly respnds, "Neglect my kids mostly."

Hehe, it's my favorite.

But I do get the back-handed compliment for being a stay at home mom and writer.

"Oh, that's so great that you can stay home and write. I wish I had time but I have to work."

"Yeah, because caring for two kids under four is SO part-time."


Anonymous said...

Pat, all I can say is YOU are the master at
great backhanded comments. As you know I am
the "nice girl" who often gets backhanded comments
and sometimes I just sit there in SHOCK because I can't believe someone would say or do that. For example, I was at the "printer" in my office (after bein away for awhile" and out printed a near exact copy of a paper I wrote and presented in Montreal Canada. This woman actually thought I wouldn't know.. So I had to go to my great friend Pat to get some words to say to her (and the director)...Pat you are so great at letting people know how you feel, i think it is a very important quality that I learn from everyday. Plus you are hilarious so most people don't even know they are getting
"backhanded" until they think about it later....
soooo I will happily help you with the contest..
Sincerely, mary

Anonymous said...

I also have to congratulate you on having LOTTERY
bound and in your hands. I am so privledged to have
been able to see you pick up the Federal Express package with the bound copies of your masterpiece.
What a journey you have "captained". I have known so many people who have dreamed of writing, are writing and it seems as if you just did everything right. Since I am a neighbor I can attest to the hard work that goes in to your writing. That you have to be extremely self disciplined (Hats off to all of you) but also the faith, keeping the dream, pushing and pushing forward, asking and taking advice, keeping motivated. All who read your blog can keep their dream alive and know, through your example, to keep going!! keep writing, and support each other. It is nice that you give time and energy to blogging each other too. I can't wait
until you get a library together and I can buy everyone's book on this blog!! I would just from getting to know the participants..

so folks, keep going... I love to read.... Mary

ORION said...

Gee, I'd like to introduce you all to my friend Mary. She lives on a boat, too, and is VERY smart!!
I honestly do not use my back handed complements for EVIL! No!! They are used for GOOD!!
Where the heck is my cape?

millhousethecat said...

Maybe you should tell Mary that when you want her opinion, you'll squeeze her head.


ORION said...


Kimber An said...

Oh, those are good ones, Maprilynne. Thankfully, I don't have to deal with too much, but if I did I could whip out my Master Daily Schedule so they could exactly how I manage to be a homemaker, mommy, home educator, and writer all at the same time.

Heidi the Hick said...

First of all..

"I vahna stay avay frrrrom zat urrrrchin."

Okay, retort:
"Yeah, I don't work. How many novels have you written?"


"I haven't made any money off of those four novels in binders on my shelf...but I sure haven't spent any money on nice clothes to go to work in!!"

(I am really looking forward to the day that I can put a copy of my book into some people's hands!!! Wish me luck.)

Michelle Zink said...

To be honest, I'm always surprised by how many other writers give these kinds of "compliments".

It seems they're most often disguised as something they're saying about themselves, i.e. "Yeah, I have high hopes for my novel, too, but I just keep telling myself just because an agent loves it doesn't mean a publisher will."

It's sneaky, a little insideous, because it's easy to second-guess your instinct that it's a dig, a warning.

You start to think, "Maybe he didn't mean anything by it" when deep down you can FEEL the slam hidden in the comment.

The message that says, "Don't get too excited. It doesn't mean anything."

Unfortunately, I usually don't have anything to say.

I'm an optimist, so I usually end up saying something nice or giving them a genuine compliment in return!

Maybe that just makes me a doormat - LOL!

ChumleyK said...

Mary, I think you should give the ARC to Millhousethecat.

"When I want your opinion, I'll squeeze your head" is my new favorite phrase. I plan to use it on my husband (and everyone else) as soon as I can say it without laughing halfway through.

writtenwyrdd said...

You tell people you write and they can often look at you like you have two heads, smirk, or blink then tell you about the book they ought to write (or worse, the book you ought to write). To those people, I encourage them to write it.

For your cool contest, I think a good response is a simple, "Excuse me?" I also ask things like you already mentioned. Can't come up with anything better than the, "Would you say that again?" or "What, exactly, did you mean by that?"

I am not good in the snappy comeback department most of the time. :)

ORION said...

I have to admit to you all my VERY rudest response to an unequivocally uncalled for comment:

F*** off and die.

This was said calmly.
But with feeling.
And felt very very good

writtenwyrdd said...

Or you could always nod sagely and say, "I understand now what that old saying means." "What saying?" "Oh, the one about those who can, do;and those that can't teach."

M. G. Tarquini said...

Here's mine:

"Perhaps it would make more sense if you turned the pages right side up."

Carrie said...

Haha - Pat, that's what I was going to say! (the f&*k off and die one)

I can't remember getting backhanded compliments and I'm pretty sure that I would be too dense to even notice. I'm one of those kill them with kindness people (which would make y'all laugh if you knew what kind of vengeful b*&ch I can really be). I just like to make the person giving the compliment feel guilty. So I'd prob say "that's so kind of you to say," or "I'm suprised you would go so far out of your way to make the effort of saying such things to me," while maybe adding "I would think that you, being so important, would have better things to do. I guess I was wrong. Ta-ta!"

Michelle said...

I once had a "friend" tell me as I was writing my first book that I would never be a writer. And then, as if I could forget that, after my book was published she told me she always knew I'd be a writer.

Both times, I just looked at her dumbfounded...wish I would have had this group with me for the snappy comeback both times! :-)

For the record, needless to say she and I are no longer friends!