Heather Arundel

The Diva of Darkness

Salton Sea Sunset Photo by Ron Niebrugge

Salton Sea Sunset Photo by Ron Niebrugge
The Beauty of Hell...

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - also known as my personal life motto!

All Human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Who I am...

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a survivor.
My family has made me who I am...my past family with past hurts...my current family with current joy.
Family is something you are born into and cannot choose,
family is also what you choose it to be once you are old enough to start anew...


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group - and WIP Wednesday

I gave a couple dozen pages of my current WIP (started as a NaNo novel) to an acquaintance that reads A LOT, and asked her for some feedback.  What I received was NOT good.  I have received some really wonderful comments on the bits I've put here during WIP Wednesdays; but for some reason this negative comment is stuck in my craw.

As she put it, "Why are you writing such violent crap?  Why is your main character so evil?  I did not like the fact that you seem to be celebrating what she is doing, that is just wrong.  Are you writing this for fucked up young men?  'Cause they are the only types I can see liking this type of violent, graphic crap.  I was expecting better from you, you are more intelligent than this."

And yes, that is word for word.  Each one is seared into my memory forever, not only did it cut me to the quick - I found that it reinforced all my fears of pursuing writing. 

Now my greatest fear is sharing my work with someone - AND ASKING FOR A CRITIQUE!  You really cannot control what someone says to you, and man, words can hurt.

Have any of you been lambasted by someone whom you asked to read a piece you were working on?  How did it go?

I'm going to post another excerpt here, I have to face my fears or I'll just wallow in fear and self-loathing; so here goes...REMEMBER! ADULT CONTENT!

I slam on the brakes.  “WHAT?!?” I shout.
“ I said…”
“No. I know what you said!  What the fuck do you mean you’ve got a sister? And why am I just NOW hearing about her?”
“She went to Joey’s when I went to George.  Do you know Joey?  George’s son?” she asks if I know George’s son, oh the shit I know about that disgusting prick.  “She was only a baby.  A baby, Lorraine – we hadn’t even had a birthday party for her, she wasn’t even one.”
“Hold on, we are here.  Let’s get inside, get you cleaned up and fed; then we will continue this” I bite out.  She flinches, yeah I’m pissed.  Fuck, why is this shit never-ending?  Seriously, sometimes it becomes really hard to keep going in the face of a NEVER FUCKING ENDING DELUGE OF SHIT.  My stomach hurts.
I grab the food and my bag, get my game bag out of the truck and jump up onto the porch to unlock the door.  The swamp cooler is going so hopefully it will be nice and cool inside.  Click.  A cool breeze comes out the door, carrying a dampness that is refreshing to my nose and throat.  You never realize how dry it is until you breathe in humidity from a swamp cooler, so nice.  Ma’s place is cozy and clean, something this girl has probably never seen before.  I look down at her as I step inside, she’s just standing on the doorstep.
“Come inside, you’re letting all the cool out.”
“It’s so nice, I don’t want to get the floor dirty” she looks like she might cry.
“Shit girl, so what if you do?  You and I both know how to clean a floor, we’ll take care of it, no worries.”
She steps over the threshold and I close the door quickly, bolting it and dropping the blinds all around.  I can bend one so that I can see out and no one can see in, that’s how I like it and Ma will just have to understand.  I ‘ll leave her a couple hundred dollars for new blinds.
“Let’s find the bathroom” I say as I’m turning around, but I hear the water turn on before I can even finish.
“Found it!  How does she have hot water out here?” she asks in disbelief.
“Did you see that big tank out back?  That’s propane”
“Oh.  Can I take a bath?  I’ve never taken a bath before that I can remember”
“Sure, knock yourself out.”
“Lorraine?  Can you help me?  I don’t know how…” her words fade away.
I walk toward the bathroom and ask, “What do you mean you don’t know how?  How to what?”  She’s standing next to the toilet, water is running into the bath but she hasn’t plugged the drain.  She turns toward me and that is when I see the tears. 
“What didn’t happen?” She says, sounding broken; her voice is almost a wail.
“Taneesha, what just happened to make you cry?” I ask in a soft a voice as I can.
“I don’t know.  It’s all so nice here, you are nice and I’m worried this won’t last very long because it’s obvious you don’t usually deal with kids and I don’t want you to leave me!”  She is in fully sobbing mode now.
“Oh shit!  I’m not leaving you anytime soon, I gotta find a place for you.  I’m not going to leave you any place that I don’t know one hundred percent for certain that you will be treated right.”
She hiccups and says, “You promise?”
“I don’t promise anything to anyone, ever.” I sigh and take another deep breath.  “But I WILL promise you this: I will not leave you until I am certain you are safe.”  With that, she seems to lose some of the weight off her shoulders.
“Can you show me how to fill the bath?” She’s got a slight smile on her face now.
“Yeah, you just flip this do-hickey right here.”  I plug up the tub and it begins filling with steaming water.  “How hot do you want that water?”
“I want it to burn him off my skin” there are no tears now, she’s back to an emotionless mask.
“You know you can’t really do that, right?”
“Humor me.”
“OK” I smile.  “It’s as hot as I dare make it, stick your foot in and tell me how it feels.”
“Mmmm.  Oh! It’s really hot!  No don’t turn the hot down, I like it; it feels really good.” 
I stop reaching for the nozzle and back out of the bathroom.
“Take all the time you want, we will be here for the rest of the day; but understand that your food will be cold if you’re in here too long” I say as I close the door.  “I’m gonna look for the box that Ma said had some old kids clothes in it” I shout and hope she can hear me.
Bedroom closet, I bet that’s where it’ll be.  Yep, up on the shelf.  Box labeled “MEMORIES”, Ma must really trust me to let me have access to this shit.  I open the box and start pulling items out: a pair of acid wash jeans, a red sweater, a white T-shirt with little red flowers on it, a pair of Reebok tennis shoes, and some pictures.  These clothes look like they were never worn, I wonder what the story is here.  There is a photo album and then more stuff: a pair of underware (white with little red flowers, it almost matches the shirt), red socks, white socks, and a cute headband.  It’s a complete outfit.  This is bizarre. 
I can hear Taneesha singing in the bath, she’s singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; how apropos.  I bet the kid doesn’t even get the irony.  She’s really got a pretty voice for such a little girl, wonder if George figured out a way to get her to church on Sunday’s.  Bet he had her singing in the choir, that would just tickle him pink to have his little girl sex slave singing in the Baptist church’s choir; he really loved getting away with shit like that.
I knock on the door, “You OK in there?” I raise my voice so she can hear me through the door.
“Yes, I’m fine; but I don’t see any soap”
“Do you want me to try to find some?”  I’m not about to invade her private time in the bath without her permission, not if I can help it at least.  “Wait, I’ll check under the kitchen sink first.”
“Yes, please find me some soap; I want to smell pretty.”
I look under the kitchen sink and there is some Ivory bars under there, not “pretty” smelling; but clean.  There is also some lavender hand soap, I bet she could use that in her hair.
“I found some soap, can I bring it in?”
“Yes, please.”  She sounds so happy.  Soap makes her happy?  George must’ve been slipping, he always wanted me clean and smelling good; maybe he stopped caring about all that shit.  He sure as hell didn’t smell very clean and fresh earlier.
I open the door halfway and reach through with my head turned away, “Take this!” I order, I know I sound upset; but I’m just trying to hand it to her without coming all the way into the room.
“I can’t reach, you have to come closer” she says.
“Well, shit.  I was trying to let you keep your privacy”
“Oh! That’s funny.  I don’t care.  I stopped caring a long time ago” she sounds like she’s almost laughing at me.
“Yeah, funny, ha ha; glad I amuse you.  Just take the damn soap.”
She reaches up and takes it and then turns her back to me and says, “Will you wash my hair?”
“Why the hell would you ask me to do that?”
“Because it’s easier to have someone else do it and it feels good, it’s one of the only good memories I have from before George.  It’s what I use to dream about during the night, a woman singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and washing my hair.  I was always happy in my dream” she has a wistful smile on her face.  I’ve gotta admit, it sounds like a nice dream.


  1. OKAY: A. That was again an excellent piece of work, with vivid imagery and nicely drawn characters.

    B. Be careful who you give your work to and maybe don't give it out until you're done. Writers tend to self-censor and do so more if they think someone is watching. If you gave the work to someone who wouldn't like it, then you got a review you'd expect. I don't force (or even ask) my family/friends to read my stuff: Sweetie, for example, doesn't really like most of the genres I write in. She'd read my work if I asked her to, but it would be a task and she would be working against it.

    Others may not find my style of writing enjoyable, even though they like reading. So don't let some criticism from someone freak you out. Remember: Nabokov wrote some startling stuff and is seen as a genius (although it's not my taste). Lots of authors have faced lots of criticisms over what they write.

    Tell your 'friend' that sometimes life isn't pretty. Ask her to watch Schindler's List, or Biutiful, or other movies about bad things, or read Slaughterhouse Five or Catch 22 or other books about bad things, and ask her if she would question Vonnegut or Spielberg why they made those things.

    You're no different, at heart, than a Vonnegutian Spielberg. You may not have the fame, yet, but you have the talent and that's what matters.

    1. Wow! A Vonnegutian Spielberg? That's pretty lofty praise, I am honored and now am also consumed by the pressure of trying to live up to that moniker! ;)

      I didn't know that this person was SO different from me, it's an acquaintance relationship and I dont really know her that we'll. In the future, I plan to just do swaps with other authors I meet through blogging. I don't want to get chewed out because my story isn't "uplifting" or "violent", I'm not writing Anne of Green Gables!

      Thanks for the constant encouragement and thanks for your support!

  2. You have to admit, your work isn't for the faint of heart. Because of this, some people won't "get it". How will you know? Well, you won't always.

    When someone reacts so judgmentally towards your writing, remember that the judgement is on them. When we judge others, we actually define ourselves. Your friend's reaction to your work was all about your friend, not about you.

    You do need to keep putting your work out there. You will find the right beta readers--the ones who will give you good feedback and not judgement. This person was not a good fit. Thank her for her time and move on. (Just don't give her any more pages.)

    Whenever you get such a reaction, remember that that person was not a good fit. Move on. Keep putting it out there. You'll find the right ones to read your work.

  3. Don't take this criticism so hard. The worst thing that can happen, in my opinion, is to face indifference. Obviously your writing touched something in this reader, even if it made her feel uncomfortable. This is one of the risk we take when we show our work unfinished. Don't give up.

  4. This particular piece is actually very telling. I get some characterization and some backstory here. The interaction between the two characters is rhythmic as well.

    About the crit you got from your acquaintance, unfortunately, you may have to get used to hearing more of this. You're content is not for the light of heart. It's not chick lit nor is it a unicorn fantasay. You're content is rough, hard knocks, the darker of side of life. It's a truth many people wouldn't want to face. Another writer interested in assisting you in making sure the content flows, plot isn't filled with holes and things work, that's what may be best for your story.

  5. Remember these things are always a matter of personal taste. I'll admit something this dark isn't what I'd normally read, but I was drawn in by this. You have a great, strong voice. This is really good writing.

  6. Everything in the writing business is subjective. That person just didn't like the style of your writing. I happen to like the intensity of it. I like the vivid emotion in the dialogue and the bluntness of it. This is dark stuff and not every reader is going to like it, but those of us who do thank you for your passion in it.

  7. interesting one. than ks for posting

  8. That was mean. Write according to your own vision, Heather. You'll find the readers who your work will speak to.

  9. I hope you noticed that your friend didn't criticise the writing itself, only the genre. There's a difference. As others have said, you simply need to find readers happy to read the darker stuff.

    It's good, Heather.

  10. Just because someone reads a lot does not make them your audience. You gave your book to the incorrect audience. Therein is the rub. Writers constantly struggle to find readers who will appreciate their work. So much so that we sometimes are tempted to find anyone that reads and to solicit their opinion.

    It sounds to me like the kind of readership you need is the kind of audience that publisher Damnation Books provides. You can google their website. But they have an audience for their material. I thought about submitting to them.

    So what you need to do is sit down and identify your audience. Who are you writing for? What kind of people do you want to read your book? And then write for that audience. Connect with that audience, and solicit feedback from them.

  11. Oh, I'm so sorry about the critique! That's horrible of anyone to say about anything, let alone your writing. I've had my share of wretched reviews, and they do stick with you. All I can say is what you've shared here is great! Some people just like the "darker" stuff--it certainly sells well, so there are a lot of people out there willing to buy it, write it, and enjoy it (me being one!). Hope you can move past this soon!

  12. One of the guys in my writing group got this feedback from a friend. She said to him, "I couldn't even get past the first page." Now, I read this piece of work and it was good stuff. So, as many have said, it's in the reader. Of course, since your stuff is gritty they need to be prepared as you did for us before we read it. That way if there is a potential to offend you skirt around the issue entirely. It seems strong writing to me. Your friend was probably trying to be helpful but by trying to make you write what she would enjoy reading instead of trying to follow the story you were telling. I concur with everyone else, choose carefully who you expose your work to when it is in your control. There would be no IWSG if any of us felt completely secure in what we put out there.