Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WHAT DO PEPPERS, HURRICANES AND EARTHQUAKES HAVE IN COMMON?


3:30 pm and 87 degrees.
So the produce at Pike Place Market fascinates me. Especially the peppers. I don't remember peppers every color of the rainbow when I was growing up. I just remember green ones.
And hurricanes.Never in a million years did I think I'd be in a hurricane.
But Earthquakes.
I was in an earthquake in elementary school in the 60's. Good Friday. Remember that one?
I know about Earthquakes.
So today I wanted to talk about choice.
An author makes a specific choice.
POV.
Narrator.
Subject.
It may not be a popular literary strategy. It may create difficulty in characterization or plot arc.
But it is a conscious choice.
You may not agree with mine and I may not agree with yours.
Fair enough.
Let's agree that there are many ways of telling a story and my way is just that.
My way.
Not the right way.
But A way.
When critics tell me my narrator with mental challenges creates a weak story I accept the fact that my protagonist may not tell the story the same way as another might.
When critics tell me a better narrator would have been one of the evil brothers I understand that our society accepts greed and malfeasance more readily than cognitive challenges.
When critics tell me they are uncomfortable laughing at someone who has cognitive challenges I understand they have difficulty knowing when it is possible to laugh with and celebrate commonalities with those who are termed different.
All these things I know.
And accept.
Because it was Perry's voice that came to me first.
Not Keith's.
Not Gram's.
Not Cherry's.
And it is his story.
So what does that have to do with peppers?
Well.
It takes all colors.
And hurricanes?
They pass.
And finally.
Earthquakes.
Like reviews they shake you up for a bit but eventually subside.
And you go on as before.

27 comments:

Gay said...

I like earthquakes. (I have survived dozens and dozens. I am a Californian.) They strike without warning, and then they go away. Of course, I have yet to have one do anything to me besides scare the you-know-what out of me, so maybe if I met the wrong sort of earthquake, I might change my mind.

I don't think I would like a hurricane. I don't like to know something is coming, because I can imagine disaster really well... too well, in fact, so that when it arrives, I always end up thinking, "Oh, is that all? Gee, why was I so worked up?" Of course, if I was the one worrying about Katrina, I think perhaps my opinion would have been different, or, more likely, the entire states of Mississippi and Louisiana would have floated through it in a giant ark. But I digress.

I'm not far into Lottery because life got in the way, but I like Perry. I do NOT like the other characters, and so far, Perry is the only character who has had anything to say worth listening to, other than Gram, and Gram is dead, so unless you'd have her speaking from the grave, you didn't have much choice for a narrator...

Screw the critics. I'm not even sure they're worth describing as earthquakes, because that would give them too much historical significance. Perhaps the military is blasting in the desert again, and we're just feeling the ground rumble a bit...

BTW, definite thumbs up on the book.

ORION said...

Thanks Gay-
Actually I find this whole process fascinating. While there is a transient sense of perplexity if I find someone has missed the point of my book - I am not dismayed as so many are emailing me to tell me how LOTTERY has profoundly affected them.
Ultimately it is the readers who judge you by buying your book and recommending it to others.

Zany Mom said...

I'd say that there are very few books out there told from the POV of a mentally challenged individual. What you have done is FRESH (sound familiar?) and new. You've taken a topic (winning the lottery) which some said was cliche, and turned it into something cool. Seeing the other characters through Perry's eyes was interesting, and loved how he really did get some things, but other things went totally past him even after explained.

Anyway, like all things in life, different strokes for different folks. Sure, you'd have had a different novel with the greedy brother POV. But many of the novels I read have greedy, rotten, scoundrels in them. They're very commonplace. Perry as narrator is NOT common.

Don't let the bad reviews get you down. Lottery is a wonderful story. :D Ya done good, Pat. Enjoy!

John Elder Robison said...

Well, Pat, not one of the goodly number of people I have recommended or given Lottery to has suggested that the book would have been better from a different point of view.

Frankly, that suggestion would never have occurred to me until you wrote it just now. I think he's great just the way he is.

If some day you wanted to write a sequel, the brother's story, that would be a whole different book.

Try not to let stuff like that worry you. I don't think normal readers would ever dream up such a thing. I know I wouldn't. Most people just read and enjoy your story for what it is. They don't read it and try and turn it into something different.

Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Don't read the reviews. To what end?

Kim Stagliano said...

Pat, I think that anyone who believes Perry's voice wasn't "the best choice" to tell the story is showing his discrimination against people with cognitive challenges. Perry is not WORTHY of sharing his version of the story because he does not matter as much as Keith or Cherry or the $%#^#$ family. That, of course, is bullpoop. Thank you for allowing Perry to speak.

Josephine Damian said...

Since I'm from NY, I say: F*ck the critics - Lottery is a bestseller because it's told lovingly from Perry's POV. You made the best POV choice from all the many you had to chose from.

Hurricanes? I could totally tell this was your first cause you didn't seem worried.

If you were in a house, you should be quite worried. In a boat? Scared sh*tless! Hurricanes can turn on a dime at the last minute, come right at you and mow you down like you were blade of grass. I know, I survived Charley three years ago this week.

Holly Kennedy said...

I agree with John.
Readers read a story for the pure pleasure of falling into it; Critics narrow their eyes on the first line and analyze as they go. Two different crowds.
Hang with the first.
Leave the last in the dust.
Life's too short.

ORION said...

Re hurricanes-
If it hits this will be my second.
There is an air of resignation and acceptance but not panic-
My days have been filled with stocking supplies, taking down awnings, and tying down/storing loose items.
We have so many near misses though, it dulls expectation.

jennifergg said...

You've chosen to give voice to a whole part of our population that isn't often heard.

I struggle with that, as mom to my son with Down syndrome. I wish more people understood that his stories have just as much meaning, and value, as anyone else's.

I, for one, thank you.

ERiCA said...

Mmm, peppers. I love photographing them too. I've got some I took in Mexico that are amazing. (Er, to me. *g)

Totally agree with you re: choice. IMHO, it's not a matter of telling a "better" story, so much as telling the story we want to tell.

And that means doing things your way. =)

ORION said...

That's exactly it jennifer and erica! I'm so glad the readers get it.
It's not that "negative" reviews get me down - in academia peer review is continual- it's just that the focus seems to be more on Perry's lack rather than my use of an alternative perspective that may or may not allow for a complete understanding of the story.
I find it interesting the many ways people justify not listening to those with cognitive challenges.

Lisa R said...

Remember those who can write do and those who can't? -- they become critics! No one I've talked to who has read Lottery thinks it's anything but wonderful. So there.

Demon Hunter said...

Most people who don't feel comfortable laughing with or at the mentally challenged don't know them or have even worked with them. I work with them, love them, had a relative who was deemed different. People are always afraid of what they don't understand, Pat. Regardless of what critics have to say, I love that you made this book and also with Perry as the narrator. It's great! :*)

The Anti-Wife said...

I loved the story and my friends have also loved it. I'm not bothered at all that it's from Perry's POV. He's a wonderful and wise person.

Toddie said...

Since I work with kids who have cognitive delays and/or autism, I'm always initially a little leery of books purporting to show the POV of someone who is differently abled. [FYI, this is my general rant -- it doesn't apply to Perry, because I think Pat did a great job with him] Writers often unconsciously dip into stereotypes when they write in that POV, and/or make the challenged narrator a kind of "savior" figure, thus again projecting characteristics onto the protagonist that he or she may not actually have, i.e. using him as a blank screen, rather than really developing him as a character. It was for that reason that I hated hated hated Forrest Gump, and why I tell everyone who was so durn excited about Mark Haddon's Curious Incident book that his narrator was perhaps consistent with a very high-functioning person with autism, but not all children with autism as a whole.

Anyway, I applaud you, Pat, for allowing a cognitively challenged character to be a fully developed, three dimensional character, warts and all.

So there.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Too bad Perry didn't have a hamster. You could have written it from the hamster's point of view. And if one of Perry's brothers had murdered Gram, then you could have had the hamster solve the murder with Perry's help.

Of course, then it wouldn't be the story it is right now. It'd be a different story.

Never mind.

Manic Mom said...

Really, really like this post. Critics should just go out and write their own story they want to tell. In whichever way they want to tell it. Critics can criticize, but being wildly opinionated or saying something is better the other way when they haven't even seen it the other way is kinda whacky.

Here I go, opening my own mouth up, sharing my own opinions, which are probably off the wall anyway. They're just my thoughts. Just like anyone elses. so what's the point here? I have no freaking idea.

Can school start already so I can feel human again?

Kanani said...

Over the years, I've read some truly horrendous reviews, both in print and online, that confuse an MFA or a writers' workshop critique with a review.

For those who want to wade into the waters, they need to take heed of the following from The National Book Critics: "remind us how criticism can be the intellectual record of our times. Notice, too, how the very best criticism is driven by metaphors and ideas and examples, not adjectives."

Snarkiness, bitchiness, wishes that the book were something else are things that you often find in writer's workshops. Graduating from an MFA program nor with a degree in literature does not guarantee that you'll be a good book critic. A reviewer can absolutely loathe something and tell you why without resorting to name calling, as less articulate reviewers are prone to doing.

These reviewers deal exclusively in adjectives, not ideas, not themes, and offer no comparisons to other books. The worst offenders engage in what they believe to be sly name calling, or outright declarations of ineptitude. But what can I say? Get used to this. With the downsizing of newspaper staffs comes the layoff of seasoned book reviewers, and the reliance on under-employed, less experienced MFA grads with more bravado than skill.

In the meanwhile, support people like Christine Thomas who is the real deal.

Kim Stagliano said...

MG, hamsters do not solve crime. Stephanie Plum has a hamster named Rex and all he ever does it eat cheese doodles. Same for Gerbils. And Guinea pigs, which, even though they sound Italian, which would make them smart, they are not.

Dogs and cats are best - ask Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown.

Will Perry become a crimebuster? A superhero? COOL.

CT said...

Dare I weigh in--the abhorred book critic, who also has an MFA? (At least I have Kanani's vote, Mahalo!)

Let's just say critics aren't all bad or all good, and though having written a novel doesn't automatically make you a good literary critic (which the NY Times book review does not seem to understand), some book critics can do it (write fiction that is) and do it well.

I got my book critic start at the Times Literary Supplement in England, where Virgina Woolf once worked as a critic--she supported her writing career in part by writing book reviews.

But, while there are some cases where a novel doing what it set out to do isn't working, and there's a character who is more engaging and would have just lifted the story up to success, that's worth pointing out, in my opinion, since it's doing what I try to do as a reviewer and when I help review manuscripts in progress--look at what the book is trying to do and how it can do that better (if needed). Saying things like this voice is uncomfortable so it should have been written in another way--that's just an unnecessary comment ala "I would have written the book this way."

In my view a review gives context for the work, a view into its thematic elements, style, excellent points, and where it works well and any places where it might fall apart for the reader.

Remember, I and any critic is just one opinion, and though every one is as valid as the other, you don't have to take in what doesn't fit.

And, a good review, even if it points out "flaws," should help you decide on your own if you'd like to go out and pick it up.

ORION said...

OMG!!! I am honored and a true fan of CT's reviews.
Check out her blog The Literary Lotus!
It is way cool!

ORION said...

I put a link on my sidebar at the top!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Kim,

How about the hamster becomes part of an experiment to make people smarter? Scientists could give him some compound that expands his brain until he's a super hamster genius. Then he solves every open crime on every police blotter before the chemical wears off and he goes back to be an ordinary hamster. The hamster could be named 'Charly'.

ORION said...

MG and kim
All this talk of hamsters makes me hungry...

Anonymous said...

After all the hype I'd seen regarding Lottery & actually finding your blog before I knew anything about it, I had to check it out for myself. Read it in less than 24 hours, because I had a hard time putting it down.

I'm not a critic, just another aspiring author & avid reader. And I'll say this: I can't imagine this story from any other viewpoint. It certainly wouldn't work the same or be as meaningful. I loved, loved, loved it, the story AND your treatment.

Now go watch Pixar's Ratatouille to laugh at the critic in it. Also consider the 1960 movie Please Don't Eat the Daisies where a critic learns that while writing a witty, scathing review might draw a lot of attention to the critic himself, it doesn't make him a good critic.

To each his own, but I loved your book & can't wait to read the next one.

wordtryst said...

Erica Jong's protagonist in HOW TO SAVE YOUR OWN LIFE said that even though she got hundreds of good reviews, the single bad one was the culprit that kept her up at night and haunted her in lonely hotel rooms.

I've also read where several famous authors claim they never read their reviews. Probably keeps them sane.

Here are a couple of my favorite quotes on critics. Hope they help.

“Pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been set up a statue in honor of a critic.” – Jean Sibelius

“Confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write "I had a fun time"? Was he ever arrested for burglary? I don't know that you will prove anything this way, but it is perfectly harmless and quite soothing.” – Jean Kerr

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.” – Brendan Francis Behan

“The artist doesn't have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews; the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews.” – William Faulkner

“Asking a writer what he thinks about criticism is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.” John Osborne