Well, today I got hate mail.
Not exactly HATE mail; more like, STRONGLY DISLIKE mail, as in "Your serial story, Charades, stinks." It's par for the course, and I've, sniff, dried my tears and will, sob, carry on with my life as best as I, hiccup, possibly can under the circumstances. Okay, seriously, though, it's fine; everyone's entitled to their opinion and this is what writers contend with all the time. The reason I raise this is not to complain about negative feedback; it's to point out a really fascinating observation I've made lately.
There's a psychology to everything--to the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the things we say and think. It's nifty being married to a psychologist because my husband often shares with me the psychological side to things, but my mind tends to gravitate to psychology as well.
When I set out to write Charades, I wanted to explore a new genre: mystery. I've never written a mystery before and I thought it would be really neat. Aside from the fact that I needed to have my main character disappear in order to deflect attention away from a very sensitive topic, abuse, I thought it would be fun and intriguing for people to be kept wondering, as the story developed, Where is Mottie Schneider?
Yet the mystery was a very side-plot to the story; the real bricks-and-mortar of Charades is the exploration of a family looking perfect on the outside but struggling on the inside; of a therapist who can save the world but cannot save herself and her children; of turning to food to stuff down emotion; of the balance in female friendships. All these threads are woven into Charades in what I feel is a fascinating, very authentic way. And yet, today's letter-writer and some others have complained about the story saying it is dragging out, it has no action, it's "disappointing."
Well, I think I've pin-pointed why. I think I've discovered that mysteries don't work well in serialized stories the way they work in a contiguous book. Why? Because a certain type of reader will be unable to focus on the rest of the plot, honing in ONLY on the mystery. She will flip to the end of every chapter without even reading the whole story, intent only on knowing, Where is Mottie Schneider? She loses the forest for the one, suspenseful tree! And that's truly unfortunate, considering the fact that it's a wonderful, complex, interesting forest!
Anyway, that's my theory and I'm sticking to it. What say you?
As a writer, feedback is a nearly daily fact of life. As a writer with a mission and a message, negative feedback is par for the course. So it's no surprise, really, when irate readers send in their complaints about my serialized stories. Those of you who followed the controversy over Shattered Glass will know what I mean when I say that it seems some people would rather bury their heads in the sand than face reality--and solutionize.
I think it is admirable when people ostensibly have pious and worthy aspirations in voicing their opposition to my work. However, I question the basic premise of the prevailing argument which says: "Why hang out dirty laundry in public?"
How else are you going to motivate someone to get that laundry clean?
Is it scandalous to admit that there are problems in our communities? Does it take away from the beauty and purity of our Nation, from our strength and growth when we call attention to issues that need to be addressed? How does it help the thousands who are suffering from abuse, which is what my current serial, Charades, discusses, by pretending it does not exist? Is it right to bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away, rather than deal with it gently and sensitively through the wonderful vehicle of fiction?
Can not our hearts be firmly rooted in heaven even as we lift our heads out of the sand?
I had a blogpost here but took it down because I was worried that my venting might somehow get back to the person involved. (Thanks for your comment, Bikores. I had to take that down also--sorry!) I guess I could turn this incident and the implementation of my decision to take down the post into a lesson for life. Words are really powerful and we have zero license to use them to hurt other people. Even when we're upset. Ya get that, Riva? :-)
While I'm already on the subject of words and their power and being careful not to hurt other people through words, I just want to raise one issue that I've been giving some thought to. The dangers that the internet presents are well-discussed and very apparent, yet there's one angle that may be overlooked. That angle is anonymity. There's nothing so new about anonymously expressing opinions--people have been doing it way before technology evolved. But now, anonymous opinions are broadcast to the (sometimes unsuspecting) public faster than you can say "Click" and the writer need take no responsibility for ensuring that his/her words have been carefully weighed and measured. After all, she's not Leah Goldstein of Monsey, NY; she's shoegirl67 or TheMomma. He can mouth off about who he hates and why and still show his face at minyan the next morning, because no one would ever dream that BlueWolf is really Chaim Shmerel Hirsch.
There is, unfortunately, lots and lots of very bitter, poisonous, negative words circulating on the internet--some of it is downright hateful invective. These words are, sadly, being posted by people who, in their "real" lives, may be careful to adhere to the laws of proper speech and who would never come up to someone in the street and say the horrible things they feel perfectly comfortable typing onto their computer screen. Aside from the plain chillul Hashem (desecrating the sanctity of G-d's Name by behaving improperly, which leads others to denigrate Torah Jews and, a priori, their Creator, G-d) of Torah Jews penning words of this kind, there's also a question here about what kind of affect such diatribe has on its perpetrator. One's words, whether spoken or written, have a profound effect on one's soul and mind. Do we really want to internalize that vindictive, cutting comment we just posted on someone's blog (No, folks, this is not personal. Thank goodness, it seems only gentle, noble readers post comments on THIS blog. If anything, my frustration with posters is that people don't comment ENOUGH!)?
Maybe this "anonymity breeds contempt" phenomenon would make for a good psychological or sociological study. BIs there some kind of catharsis at work here? Some kind of Walter Mitty Meets the Web? The shy girl who never opens her mouth in real life is suddenly a big-shot know-it-all in the "kosher" chatroom, earning respect for her brash opinions. Is this okay? Is it wrong? Can it be fixed?
I think a good litmus test of whether something should or shouldn't be said is whether one is willing to say it without hiding behind a pseudonym. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
So I often get stopped by people who read my stuff and find out that I'm the Riva Pomerantz who writes. And it's a funny thing, really, because very often they'll say, "YOU'RE Riva Pomerantz?! You're so...normal!" A friend of mine told me she had a guest over for Shabbos and they must have been talking about my serial, Green Fences, when this guest said, "You'll never believe it. I MET Riva Pomerantz, at the grocery store, and guess what! She's NORMAL! She's actually really nice."
If I didn't write for a living, I would write for a living. I think I have thunk it through and that is my conclusion. Writing has always been more than a parnassah--its a passion, a journey into self. I journal regularly; it helps me get clarity, connect to Hashem (God), and sort things out that are troubling me. As I write, the words pave a path for my mind and heart to dance across, alleviating tension, worry, and fear. When I journal, I most often end off with a tefillah (prayer). I am grateful that my work is so closely aligned with my love and my mission. Write on!
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.