Sunday, April 14, 2024

I Guess I Have Joined The Ranks Of Controversial Humor Writers Part I

Hert Niks on Unsplash
I have been a published writer for going on twenty-six years. In that time, my work has been critiqued in various ways, as it should be. If you are a writer, you want to be known as a writer. You want to be part of literary discussion. Being part of literary discussion can mean professional reviews, blog reviews, Goodreads reviews, and personal responses from readers. Or it can mean comments on your on-line publishing. I've always found those to be pleasant, until last week when I was told I was a "bigoted anti-male feminist" and that I should mind my "**** business." And that was just getting started.

By the way, I am of the philosophy that everything is a writer's business, so that last bit wasn't as great an insult as the person who left it hoped it would be. Sorry. Also, the commentor used the asterisks. So he wasn't that offensive.

The Kind Of Less Than Stellar Criticism I Used To Get 

My first publications were books that were reviewed in professional journals. Now professional book reviewers tend to consider structural type things. On the occasions when they were pointing out negatives, they might say things like:
  • "Readers may find the ending abrupt and learn more about Ethan Allen than they want to know..." Booklist
  • "...the office politics at times slow the pace..."  Publishers' Weekly
  • "There is little cohesive development or central conflict in this short novel;" "The pacing is also somewhat uneven, with some stories losing their comedic effect as they drag on for several chapters." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Ouch!
I also had a reviewer call one of my books a one-joke story, and someone said of another that my main character was no Junie B. Jones, which is a big blow in children's books.

Regarding responses from readers, I once had a very civil exchange with a man who felt I shouldn't have used "goddamn" two or three times in a book in which Ethan Allen, who was a legend in his own lifetime for his use of profanity, figures prominently. We agreed to disagree.

Goodreads often gets mentioned for having unpleasant reviewers. I don't have any big complaints. Because I used to write children's books, I often saw reviews at Goodreads that were obviously from kids. My favorite is a short one from over ten years ago that begins with "I just read this book Happy Kid by Gail Gauthier but it wasn't very good." It ends with "I would not recommend this book to anybody, ever." Come on! That's adorable!

The Kind Of Less Than Stellar Criticism I Got Last Week

I have been writing humor and essays for various publications on the Medium platform for close to four years. Readers are extremely important at Medium. You get paid by the number of people who read your work and the amount of time they spend reading it. Readers also provide any critiques writers will receive in the form of either claps (applause) or comments. I've had thirty-one pieces of one sort or another published there in one place or another. When I've received comments, they've either been positive or engagement--as in discussing more ideas that could have been added to the piece or things that had happened to the reader that were similar to what I'd written about. We would have a nice little back and forth about it. 

So imagine how unprepared I was two days after What We All Want to Say to the Grandfathers at the Playground* was published at Frazzled to see the comment about my being a bigoted anti-male feminist and minding my **** business. I'm hesitant to do direct quotes here, by the way, because I just don't know how to attribute them. Feel free to go read the comments yourself. Enjoy.  (*Original title mentioned in earlier blog posts. It has been changed, as you will see. Read on!) 

Now keep in mind, Frazzled specializes in parenting humor. I've always liked it, because it does a good job of sticking to its theme while publishing very funny material. I've submitted a lot of work there, because I wrote situational humor for and about children for many years and am on my second generation of children in my family. The parent-child world is a milieu I enjoy and have experience with. 

Also keep in mind that I have written and published elsewhere at Medium a humor piece called The Best Moments For A Sex Scene During A Thriller. It was illustrated with a picture of two very scantily dressed people making out on a beach. Nobody had a problem with it. I also wrote Your Guide To Finding The Perfect Church in which I suggested making your decision on the basis of the quality of the coffee hours offered. No one was bothered by that, either.

No, they came out with pitchforks and torches for a list humor piece about grandpas at the playground.

How Bad Did It Get? 


So far, I've been told:
  • I sound like an ass. 
  • I was being a jerk.
  • More about me being anti-male. And also ageist.
  • A suggestion that I may not have had good relations with my grandfathers, father, or any man.
  • A question about whether I got out on the wrong side of the bed the day I wrote that piece. 
  • I may have been called a sanctimonious shit sack, but I'm not sure. I had a little trouble figuring out who that person was talking about. But I'm betting it was me!
  • I sound whiny.
  • More on the ageist business.
  • I have no empathy and am potentially cruel. That guy was actually kind of nice.
  • I have a superior attitude and probably not that much to be superior about. This one was pretty civil, and the second part is sadly all too true.
  • I was insulting old white men, and I could only do that because they are the only nonprotected demographic left. It took me a while to get my jaw up off the floor after I saw that.
  • It's been over a week and a half now, and someone just called me a boobie!
  • I will continue with updates if any more come in.
Now please don't think this was the only kind of comments I got. There were people who liked the piece. There were people who clapped for it. There were people who clapped for some of my responses to comments. I had some lovely exchanges with people that I won't go into in the interests of time.

But many of the comments I was seeing were markedly different from anything I'd seen before. In fact, they were different enough that the very supportive Frazzled editor contacted me to say he was sorry about them and to offer to let me tweak the title to see if that would help readers recognize the humor  and take some heat off me. (Which is why it now does, indeed, have a different title.)  And he said yes, these comments were unusual.

So what was going on?

Since I am philosophically opposed to lengthy blog posts, which this one already is, I've done some editing and am  publishing my take on that question separately.

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