The Naked Dance
When I was a college freshman and sophomore, I had a part-time job babysitting for the daughter of a Northwestern journalism professor. The girl -- I'm not going to use her name, for reasons that will momentarily become self-evident -- was a chubby, curly-haired bundle of precocity. I wasn't surprised at all when I recently learned that she went on to graduate from Penn with honors. She was funny, sharp and as endlessly fascinating as a toddler can be. But my favorite thing about "Y" was something she called the Naked Dance.
The Naked Dance* was not salacious, quite the opposite. It was a solemn, contemplative jig, sort of like slow-motion skipping in place. It was performed during the day's transitions - from play to nap, from bath to bed -- when the need to change clothes might result in a moment of nakedness. Once, an impromptu performance produced one of the worst thunderstorms I have ever seen, tearing up trees and dropping branches on roofs. So I learned early on never to underestimate the power of the Naked Dance.
The Naked Dance is on my mind because I'm about to start touring to promote my seventh novel, "The Last Place." Talk about naked dances. The process feels very much like skipping in place with no clothes on, especially as others begin to weigh in.
The reviews so far have been quite nice - a starred rave from Kirkus, a Booklist that compared Tess to Nancy Drew on steroids and an official Amazon.com nod from Jane Adams, who said it was the best entry yet in a "lively, original series." I'm sure there will be negative feedback as well, for that's the nature of this game.
Friends have asked me what it's like to get bad reviews. I want to bark like Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men. "It really is tough. But after 20 years as a reporter, in which I marveled at how thin-skinned politicians are, I'm trying to develop the thickest skin possible. I will say it helps when a reviewer who says I can't write turns out to be a reporter for one of the New York tabs whose day job consists of producing such deathless prose as: "It was the second 'aisle-do' for both." Good writing is so subjective, as I've told my students at Goucher College this fall.
And, in the end, being reviewed is not much different from sitting in a creative writing workshop and listening to others pick apart your work. Which is to say, it can be depressing, exhilarating, frustrating, or all of the above. The instinctive desire is to sputter, "But I meant--" or "But didn't you get the part where--" or even: "So how many times were you dropped on your head as a child, anyway?"
But in the workshops I took, the inflexible rule was that the writer could not speak until everyone had finished his or her critique. It's a good rule, one I'm enforcing in my workshop, and one to which I try to adhere today. When my books come out, I've had my say, 90,000-115,000 words worth. Now it's your turn.
I'll be on the road much of October. Track me down and tell me what you think. Do your own metaphorical Naked Dance. I'll even review it if you like.
*Actually the antithesis of the Naked Dance, but the inspiration for this month's letter and extremely amusing for reasons I can't quite fathom.
Read Self Help.
Read Mistakes Were Made.
Read Play With Yourself.
Read Musings and Advice.
Read We Were Haranders.
Read Spying on Harriet.
Read Gone Baby Gone.
Read The Last Good Saturday Night.
Read In a Strange Kitchen.
Read The "D" Word.