The Writer’s Prayer for Accepting Feedback

One of the hardest things for a writer to accept is that his work isn’t perfect. You poured your heart and soul into this piece. You were so excited when you were writing it that the only thing more exciting was the anticipation of how your readers would react. And then, like any good writer, you show it to someone. Someone who will proofread your work and highlight where you forgot to put a comma, the words you may have misspelled, and point out that Captain McCoolname’s hair was blond in the beginning of the story, but it changes to red, brown, and paisley colored without explanation during the narrative.

That’s all necessary to make the story polished and professional. No problem, right? Even if you’re self-publishing, that’s no reason to put mediocre work out there. And some of the best fanfictions I’ve read were so polished and professional that it made me eager to know whether this author would go on to publish any original work.

But what about when someone reads your story and they don’t get something? Maybe you wrote a science fiction tale and your writing group is a literary fiction crowd. Maybe you posted your vampire story on a writing forum, but everyone who reads it thinks that Anne Rice, Stephanie Mayer, and Bram Stoker are the only true writers of vampire fiction.

This is the dilemma we all face. Because like our children, we don’t want to believe that anything could be wrong with our stories. There’s a commonly held belief that if the reader doesn’t get it, then it must be the writer’s fault. Is that a fair analysis?

Ray Bradbury once spoke to an assembly of Harvard students about his book, Fahrenheit 351. Half way through his lecture, the students corrected him. Yes, a bunch of kids who weren’t even a flicker in the minds of their parents when Bradbury sent his first manuscript actually had the balls to tell him that his story was really about censorship.

And you do have to look at this from their point of view. Most of those students probably read Fahrenheit 351 as an assignment. So while they’re reading it, their teachers and professors are writing things on chalk boards, handing out xeroxed copies of worksheets, complete with quotes and analysis and interpretations of Bradbury’s work that likely went on without the author’s knowledge. People drew their own conclusions about the book’s main theme, wrote papers, got published and prestigious, and it was those works that these students were likely exposed to, thus leading to this incredibly disrespectful response to the author’s lecture.

Bradbury’s response was to flip them off and leave the stage.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not Ray Bradbury. If you are Ray Bradbury, my mistake sir, I thought you were either dead and/or a Luddite. I’d be honored if you would autograph my copy of one of your anthologies. But in the far likelier event that you are not Ray Bradbury, you will not be able to get away with flipping off your writer’s group.

Part of the process of becoming successful in any field to accept feedback with a certain amount of grace. Even though inside you’re thinking, “In the name of the Great Prophet Zarquon how could you have not gotten that!” outwardly, all you need to say is, “thank you for taking the time to read this and providing me with your feedback.”

Bradbury couldn’t be expected to reach every single reader. There were people that actually grew up in his time who don’t even know he exits. Would they understand subtle themes in The Martian Chronicles, The Flying Machine, and The Dog any more than a bunch of millennials? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s fine, because he obviously had a very successful career that allowed him to live the life that permitted him to tell Yahoo to go Eff themselves (you’ll notice I don’t swear so much in this blog, which is how I want to keep it) when they offered to build his website for free.

At this early stage of my career, I am learning to cherry pick. Some advice will be useful, others less so. Think of it as picking up cans and bottles for recycling. You only want to save the ones that can be redeemed at your local liquor store or bottling center for cash. The rest you can leave behind (or throw into a recycling bin that doesn’t give you money, if you’re not that petty) and not worry about.

When you think of how many online reviewers poke holes in the works of movies and video games, it makes it easier to look at your own work and say, “You know what, this isn’t perfect. I do need it to be the best it can be if I want someone to pay money for it, but I don’t need to please everyone. So in the name of The Doctor, The Delorian, and the Heart of Gold, grant me the ability to listen to their advice, the patience to filter out what is irrelevant to my story, and the Serenity to know the difference.”

 

This post is brought to you today by the letters P, E, and M. And by the number 15.

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

Boy this post was a long way in coming. I wanted to have it written a few days ago, but that’s what happens when drama finds me first. Sometimes I find the material to write about and other times the material finds me.

So here’s the post about finally getting to see I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney story. For those who don’t know, Caroll Spinney is the man behind the yellow feathers. If you read that and said, “What yellow feathers”, then leave this blog and close your browser, because my tax payer dollars are paying for the reading comprehension class that you are clearly blowing off so you can surf online.

This is not a review or a synopsis of the film itself, which was amazing, so I refer you to the blog that I have linked in the hopes that you will be enlightened. This was the second to…

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Ladies In Red

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

To understand what’s coming up, I’ll need to explain the layout of the Cinema Salem. There are two entrances, one of which is in the mall. The outside entrance takes you down a short carpeted hallway past little tables and a wall adorned with artwork in various media from local artists. In that hallway is also the entrance to the Cinema Salem’s in-store coffee shop.

The coffee shop is usually only opened on the weekends, except during special events, such as the Film Fest.

Incidentally, I showed up an hour early for my volunteer shift. One of the employees, whom I will not identify or describe to any detail in case what they did was against company policy, generously gave me the WiFi password, allowing me to kill forty-five minutes in the charming little waiting area.

My fellow volunteers were nice enough. One of them, a woman from near my…

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Mark It With a B

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

The one major difference about this year’s kickoff party was the utter lack of pastries. Whole Foods was the supplier for the snacks and the Hawthorne provided the coffee and tea, but alas there was not an éclair or a crepe to found.

After entertaining my friend, whom I will call Tanya after the sister of Fievel Mouskewitz of An American Tale, thus maintaining this entry as the last of the “Kickoff Party” trilogy, asked me if there would be pastries. She had inquired about them earlier but to no avail.

Around that time I had seen the owner of Coffee Time Bakeshop, which was where the pastries came from last year. But whether the numbers didn’t add up to make a full order for the event or there just wasn’t enough room in the reception area, he had no pastries in tow.

“I don’t know,” I told Tanya in…

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Of Mice and Mice, or, What Kind Of Documentaries Would Feature at a Film Festival for Mice

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

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Among the questions asked of anyone at a Film Fest Kickoff party are, “Do you work in film?” or, “Are you a filmmaker/producer?”

Like the other volunteers, I wore my volunteer shirt but as I was there to partake in the party, the shirt was concealed beneath my button down flannel shirt. Routinely, I was prepared to open the shirt in a dramatic fashion to proudly reveal the logo. This was complicated by the fact that the strap from my laptop bag was in the way and later by the realization that if I kept doing that in a public place, it might look as though I was flashing someone.

The reason I had the laptop bag on me, was because there wasn’t actually a person working the coat check of the hotel. It was strictly self-service if you wanted to leave something there and while I generally trust the…

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The Kick Off Party

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

Ahead of time, I should stipulate that I haven’t been posting specific dates on a lot of these posts. Because of the gaps in time between access to the Internet, I creatively use the time to polish and expand on any thoughts that I wish to share with my readers. If I write a long post about the volunteer meeting and tell you that it happened yesterday, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it literally happened the day before I posted it and I actually think it’s superfluous to clarify that anyway, because if you read this twenty years from now it’s not like you’re going to be that obsessed with narrowing the events down to the minute. And if you are that obsessed twenty years from now, be sure to save me a cup of lemon Jello when they call me in to your pre-release screening to provide testimony.

Yesterday…

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The Volunteer and the Vulpine (Original Posted on March 5, 2015)

Tuesday was the volunteer meeting for the Salem Film Festival. Just like the year before, the meeting was at the Cinema Salem. I got my new shirt, which you will see in the photo above and two free passes to exchange for tickets to any of the documentaries featured. Just like the year before, there was only one movie that caught my interest so I got my ticket for that one and I gave the other pass to John.

Last year, I saw Letters to Bill, a documentary about a guy searching for knowledge of his favorite elusive comic strip artist, Bill Waters. For those of you born after 1990, Bill Waters is the author of the much loved Calvin and Hobbes. Get thee to your nearest bookstore and find the collections if you are not yet enlightened by the wisdom of the little blond haired boy and his stuffed tiger pal.

This year, I will be seeing I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. Just like Calvin and Hobbes, the impact Big Bird and Sesame Street had on my life respectively cannot be understated, so naturally I will see a documentary involving the big yellow guy.

After we got the new shirt and passes, we went into the movie theater to see a Bluray compilation of a series of short, five minute student films. A lot of these films were short pieces that involved some Salem History that I was not aware of. They featured footage from the 90’s and showed me a view of the city that I have not begun to scratch the surface of in my five years of barely living here.

John was born in this town. So when I came home to relay some of what I learned, of course he knew about some of the film subjects that I told him of. Like Vincent’s Potato Chips and Helen the Popcorn Lady. A lot of these films were about businesses that had been in Salem for almost a century and were long since closed by the end of the 90’s. And this is where I found my first snag with a couple of my fellow volunteers.

Keep in mind that I did not engage in conversation with these women. I only heard snippets of the conversation.

“We’re inviting people to visit Salem and those little sketches were just people complaining.”

Hearing this in real life is as annoying as when people accuse me of this on my blog. Hell, I’ve been accused of this my whole life and as always, the people who are doing the accusing, are the people who couldn’t be more oblivious if someone welded sunglasses to horse blinders before gluing them to their heads.

If these women really lived here longer than I did, then they would know that statistically, more people know about Salem because of the Witch Trials than the Film Festival. Go ahead. Ask the next ten people you meet what they know about Salem, Massachusetts. If more than three can tell you about anything other than the Witch Trials, or can name any movie other than The Crucible or Hocus Pocus, I will be mildly surprised. Oh, mentioning Hawthorne or Puritans is off the table too, if you go to or went to an American high school where such topics are part of the standard curriculum.

My point is that people who come to Salem need to know that there is more going on here than a bunch of hype and kitsch. Oh, you can get a tarot reading and meet real witches. That’s great. Did you know that allegedly, this is the town where the first millionaire in America, Elias Hasket Derby lived? Did you know this is the town where Monopoly and Clue were developed? Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell conspired with Elisha Gray to murder and bury the original inventor of the telephone and that Bell blackmailed Gray into silence? Well yeah, most of that happened here in the town that most people are wholly unfamiliar with.

So what if a few students decided to use their five minutes to introduce visitors to something else they didn’t know? What’s wrong with seeing the human side of the coal plant, or a manufacturer of neon signs, or a wonderful old lady who made people happy just by making and selling popcorn from her little stand at the edge of Salem Commons? Do you really think the tourists who come here for the Film Festival are going to be so bad off when they see those wonderful homages to a town that probably only exists to them in the form of heavily abbreviated brochures and sensationalized fiction?

Whatever, I can’t change the minds of a woman who uses a blanket judgment to express her shallow and superficial opinion, anymore than I can stop the Internet trolls from doing the same thing. Like any of the documentaries featured in this year’s film festival, there is only so much the original creator can do to tell the story and just like I am finding my audience here, I hope those people find theirs.

There’s a bit of an epilogue to last night. It started snowing sometime late in the evening and by the time the volunteer meeting let out, the road was covered. On my way back to the house, along Brown Street, a fox bolted across the street.

For the two of you who don’t know this by now, I was born and raised in Bennington, Vermont. Foxes are as common in the Green State as Ben and Jerry’s cows. So before anyone sees the picture and tries to tell me that what I saw was a coyote, a cat, or a dog, there is no mistaking the bright orange shine to the fur in the light of streetlamp, amplified by the snow. That quick step and the head to the ground, trust me, that is a fox my friends.

My first instinct? Got to get a picture of it. And I ran to the little driveway that leads to the back yard of the Visitor’s Center and I was so psyched to realize that the distinct paw prints of my vulpine friend were clear despite the falling snow. I followed the prints until I realized that the fox had obviously cleared a snow pile and must have made it’s way to Essex Street by now.

Where did it come from? There are a few heavily wooded areas nearby that aren’t entirely residential that could reasonably support a fox or two. Foxes are resourceful animals and there are certainly plenty of small vermin in this city. Still, it’s the first time I have ever seen one in Salem and since I highly doubt he is here for the film festival, I can only hope he made it to another patch of woods before sunrise.

Sadly, I did not get a chance to ask him what he said.