Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Thick Skin

When I published West Of Independence, I did not expect a never-ending stream of five-star reviews. The topics of homosexuality, suicide, and family relationships are white-hot emotional launch buttons when dealt with individually, and my story blends them all together.
An interesting two-star review of West Of Independence was posted on Amazon today. I am not sure what the reader wanted, but it sounds like they were expecting a manual with all the answers, a black and white map detailing the motives and emotions of every character, followed by sweet redemption for all involved.

But I am a writer, not an explorer or a cartographer; I couldn't draw a map of my own bedroom, let alone a map of the human heart (mine or anyone else's). I don't think it was my duty to tell my readers what to take from the story; this is neither a textbook or an operations manual.

I will say this: the suicide of a loved one brings everyone involved to their knees, and leaves them with more questions than answers, more guilt than redemption, and more turbulence than peace. Jared has been dead for almost four years, and just yesterday I stood in the garden center of Home Depot amidst a rush of people, with a bag of fertilizer in my cart, tears falling down my cheeks, and panic in my chest. These moments come and go in waves, without any sort of forecast or pattern to provide warning.

I didn't write West Of Independence to explain, absolve, empathize, or lay blame, and I certainly didn't intend to answer any questions (especially since I don't have the answers). I wrote it to tell the story as it happened (from my point of view), so that others might learn from it and spare themselves the same experience. Judging from the feedback that has been flowing in over the past month, that just might happen for some. People of all ages and circumstances have reached out with their own stories, their own challenges, and to share with me their own change of heart upon reading West Of Independence. To hear them share their feelings is thrilling; not just because my writing has had an impact on their lives, but because I have learned that the more we share of ourselves, the more able and willing we become to bear one another's burdens and sometimes even help to remove them altogether.
And so I don't mind that someone sees the book as too ambitious, or feels that it falls short of the mark that they have chosen for it. I had a mark in mind when I wrote it, and it wasn't to become an overnight literary success and a standard for writers in general. It was to help at least one person, and yes, that one person was me.
Anyone else was to be a bonus.


  1. Amen. Thick skin isn't easy to acquire when you aren't born with it...still trying to find mine. Two stars only means they didn't get it and that's too bad for them.

  2. I read the 2 star review. The poster seemed to love the concept, and felt the story was important, but that the delivery needed polishing. Whether one agrees or not, there didn't seem to be any personal attack in the review. In fact, the reviewer wrote an anticipation for Matthew's future writings. I think it was meant as constructive criticism, so that his books would continue to improve and be at the level of being reviewed by literary bloggers, Oprah, etc.