• Joanne Paulson

When a bad review reminds you why you wrote the book

Updated: Jul 29




I have to admit I was shocked when I first saw it.


Sure, authors stick their necks, their words, their livelihoods and their reputations out there the very second they hit “publish.” It’s bloody terrifying. If you haven’t tried it, take my word for it.


One would not expect every review to be glowing. Five-star ratings right across the board can happen, but it’s rare, even for the big, best-selling, super-quadruple-edited geniuses. I am not one of them.


I must add a bit of background here on the origins of Adam’s Witness, the target of the above “it.” While I was still gainfully employed, many moons ago, I was powerfully moved to write a scathing newspaper column about a local cathedral that had decided not to allow the local gay men’s choir to perform.


Some readers have suggested that no one should be allowed to sing secular tunes in a sanctuary, and therefore my premise (that it is exceedingly stupid and homophobic to ban a gay choir) is moot. I leave that up to you, gentle reader. I don’t agree, but I am a heathen (some say). The thing is, churches lease their sanctuaries all the time to help pay the bills. Other groups are allowed to rent the space; in the case of Catholic churches, the sacraments are often previously removed. Banning a choir because of its membership is, therefore, discriminatory.


The column, by the way, received monstrous feedback. I was inundated with pats on the back, passionate phone calls, long objections based on scripture (verifying that I am a heathen), and countless emails. It was definitely a thing. The rest of the media was all over the story, too; talk about having legs.


Years later, the event was the jumping off point for my first novel. I suppose I was still mad about the whole thing because it returned to me in memory one dark, insomniac, miserable night. The next morning, I had one plot, two main characters, three cops and a chorus spinning in my head.


In the meantime, between column and novel, laws changed. People in the LGBTQ2 community gained freedoms and rights that should never have been denied to humans in the first place. Yet friends still were and are denied employment. Young people were and are struggling with coming out and are sometimes kicked out. Times had certainly changed . . . but not enough. So I wrote the book.


Then I saw the review.


One out of five stars: “Didn’t realize it was a book promoting LGBTQ.”


Well, I guess that reader won’t be continuing on with my series.


Do people really still say, “some of my best friends are gay . . . but?” Or Black, or Jewish, or Asian, or Indigenous? Yes. They do. In public. And although they “love” their LGBTQ friends and family, they don’t “condone the lifestyle.”


What does that even mean? What lifestyle are we talking about? Living, loving, working, sleeping, eating? Getting married? Being life-insured? Inheriting? Being opposed to any of that doesn’t sound like love to me.


For anyone who thinks the battle for LGBTQ rights is over, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled this month that religious institutions can choose who they hire and fire. If a church official, such as a bishop, wants to fire a gay employee from a religious school or church, the employee has no recourse.


Also instructive is that twenty-one people found the Adam's Witness review “helpful.” Eleven more than found any other review helpful.


The effect all this had on me was, at first, brain-crushing fury. Then I crawled under the bed. Then I crawled back out and decided this review is probably the best one I’ve ever received. It was certainly the most revealing. And the one that focused my attention.


With an admittedly quivering authorial lip, I say bring on the one-star reviews. Read them. They will tell you things you did, and didn’t, want to know.


And I do know this. Even now, or perhaps more than ever, we must howl into the wildnerness (and many are; note the Black Lives Matter movement) against discrimination. Against hate. Against the lack of understanding, the lip service to love, the policies that divide us and the fears that turn us against each other. COVID has shown us, yet again, with horrifying clarity, the cracks in the systems and the chasms between us. If we cannot stand together now, to battle disease, division, bad policy and potential economic disaster, we perhaps never will.


This is why some people write books.

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