• C.T. Madrigal

R.O.A.R. | Review of a Review

Updated: Nov 9


(Newest updates at bottom)

Here’s a freaky fact: I like good reviews, and I don’t like bad reviews.


I write books because it's hard not to. I'm not sure if that equals enjoyment, or if I'm capable of such decadent emotions, but writing often feels better than not writing. Maybe I was born for it, with an iota of code in my DNA that insists I put pen to paper. It wants me to alliterate, to mine metaphors, and to craft cliffhangers. These pedantic tasks feel fundamental to my wellbeing, they're as essential to me as Cheetos eating and finger snapping (which are surprisingly ineffective if done together.)


Though I may be here to write (and to decorate, and to collect horror movie tees, and to stalk Shelley Long), there is a part of being a writer that really isn't for me...


It's the reviews. The reviews. I hate the mean reviews.


I know I shouldn't say that. I've seen some writers complain about reviews in author forums, and I've seen the other authors attack them as hyenas would a gimped gazelle. "Grow up" they scream, "it's part of being an author!"


Yeah, okay. I get that. Life's full of unwanted, albeit predictable consequences. Getting stung by a bee might be the natural consequence of collecting honey; but can't I still bitch about the stinger in my ass?


I don't really mind criticism. Of course, I'd prefer the world thought I was perfect, but I can accept when someone unenlightened thinks I'm not. The thing that bugs me isn't the judgment, it's the meanness, the anonymous, snarky, angry, drive-by meanness.


As a gay man who's sported some noticeable haircuts, I can tell you that it sucks to walk down the street, thinking only happy thoughts, when a carload of strangers speeds past you, screams "FAG", and throws the remnants of a Big Gulp at your carefully combed hairdo. It really does, it sucks.

It doesn't suck because I'm a fag, and not because I was clocked for my faggotry, but because some anonymous shithead threw a punch at me, and then sped away before I could slug back. That's how it feels getting a mean-spirited review from an unnamed stranger, like some Dodge Viper threw a Mountain Dew at my head and drove away.


Artists and authors and musicians aren't punching bags, I might have said to a particularly nasty review. And maybe I'm not a bad writer somuchas you’re a bad reader, or at least a bad reviewer. I mean, nearly everyone who bought my book gave it 5 stars, so maybe my book isn’t “the worst piece of shit I ever smelled,” perhaps it’s just not your taste. Something can be not-your-taste and still be decent, we don’t have to vilify the things we don’t prefer. I don’t happen to enjoy watching televised sports, yet I spend no time ranting against Monday night football; instead, I just change the channel. Here’s another: I love flour tortillas, but I don’t care for corn tortillas. Yet I’ve never walked into a grocery store and scribbled “these tortillas suck” across their packaging. That would be dickish, and probably illegal, so I just move on. I grab my flour tortillas and I go home.


If you've read other authors' reviews as much as I have then you know that some reviews are patently unfair. Some authors get one-stars for problems buyers had with the payment processing, or with the USPS delivery. Someone gave a punitive two-star review with a comment that shockingly said, "great writing, but I don't like memoirs." And another dismal one-star review said, "I bought the book on accident and I can't figure out how to get a refund, I don't even own a Kindle."


I feel bad for those authors, working hard—often for years—to perfect their little books, only to have them permanently marred for unreasonable reasons.


I've been pretty lucky with reviews, most have been thoughtful (and downright lovely), with very few that felt like a hairdo full of soda.


Sure, a few didn't love me, but they were nice about it.


And as for that occasional criticism from a reviewer whose "unverified" status and discordant comments made clear: they never bought nor read the book, I know to try to ignore them. And mostly, I do.


But good or bad, I think a review is only half of a dialog. I thank the reviewers for starting the conversation, and I believe it would be rude not to reply. In fact, I've long wanted a place to say thanks for the kindest words. And I mean that, the loveliest reviews have let me sleep well some cold and windy nights, when I am prone to going to bed with only the day's worst on my mind. Their encouragement has allowed me not only to sleep, but also to tackle the intimidating typewriter when I woke the following morning (if 5 P.M. can be considered morning.)


For the other, less glowing reviews, I wanted a place to say thanks for that thoughtful critique too. I hear it, and I consider it. And I also wanted a place to tell that reviewer, "please give me an extra star now, since I've been so gracious with your criticism."


And as for those who slam books—my books, or other authors' books—without reading them, I wanted a place to say something to them too...


QsMommy's review of Oklahomo:

*

"Not Nonfiction. At the beginning of this book the author states events that occurred may be true, may be embellished or may be lies. What a disappointment. I didn’t bother finishing the book."


CTM's review of the above:

Dear QsMommy, when I first read your review, I didn't know what you were talking about. I mean, if I'd been writing fiction then there'd have been a lot more dragon slaying, and a lot less bedwetting. But then I reread my book's front matter on Amazon's "Look Inside" and I understood what happened. It appears you're talking about those two pages when I said that a) my childhood conversations are reconstructed as I don't remember them verbatim; and when I explained that b) my boyfriend and I didn't really break up in a restaurant, but I couldn't remember where we actually were; and then when I warned that c) I "lied" about Patti LaBelle having a mohawk in the 70s, when in truth I suspect she didn't rock those locks until the 80s.


Clearly it seems these disclosures were upsetting to you, and for that I am sorry. In my defense, I can only say that a) I hate to be the one to shatter the myth, but no one remembers childhood conversations verbatim, and b) I don't believe the integrity of my memoir is harmed if I place a scene in a restaurant when I can't quite remember where we really were; and c) the Patti Labelle hairdo was really just a lighthearted punchline to a hypothetical sentence in my book, where I was talking about imagining what some schoolhouse bullies should have said to me, instead of the less interesting things they did say. It really was just a little joke.


That said, I do believe putting down my book was the right choice for you. If you were deeply offended on page two, then the rest of the read might have been torturous. Still, thank you for buying my book.



DonnaTheDead's review of Oklahomo:

*****

"What a surprise! Most memoirs I've read have been self-serving and poorly written (yet I can't stop hate reading them). This isn't one of those. I kept reading this one for GOOD reasons! Oklahomo is written with style and wit by someone who is apparently not afraid to make himself look bad in the service of truth (and humor). The life of this weird queer misfit in small towns in the 70's and 80's was harsh, fun, and ridiculous. So many of us can relate. If you'd like an all-American story with old school boozy broads, bikers, underage drag queens, crime, and even (gasp!) love, then this one's for you. The subtitle says a lot."


CTM's review of the above:

Dear DonnaThedead, first things first, your name is perfection. Second things second, you called me a “weird queer misfit,” which would be hurtful if it wasn’t true, in fact I’m wearing pink cheetah panties as I type this response. Your review is meaty but not wordy, enlightening but not revealing, and a fun read (“old school boozy broads”), we’re off to a good start. Thank you for buying my book.

MG's review of Oklahomo:

*****

"His naked truth about his childhood growing up gay in a world that did not seem to understand him- is both poignant and absolutely hysterical at times. C.T.'s way with words gives you a front row seat to the ride of his life!! A book well worth reading and I hope this author carries on with his memoirs- we would like to see where life takes him next!!"


CTM's review of the above:

Dear MG, yours is one of my favorite reviews for one specific reason: you said my writing was, at times, poignant. I knew I wrote some poignant moments—freaking touching if you ask me—but I think you may be the only reviewer who said so. Cudos to you (and SHAME on the rest of you who failed to notice my poignancy, SHAME!) Thank you for buying my book.

T. Ryan's review of Oklahomo:

*****

"Loved this book!!!!

Being an Oklahomo myself could relate in more ways than I wanted to the lifestyle there. Church on every corner and hate [in] every heart."


CTM's review of the above:

Dear T. Ryan, the Best First Sentence award goes to you.

I'm happy to learn that a fellow Oklahomo reads my writes, and I'm sad to learn that “hate in every heart” is your takeaway from the state. While a place like OK sorta sucks for some, there was also a camraderie among its misfits in my place and time. T. Ryan, if you didn’t have that there, you have it here, just click my site's CONTACT link if you need a comrade. Thank you for buying my book.

Barry Gallison's review of Oklahomo:

* (No review, just the 1 star)


CTM's review of the above:

I was suspicious when I saw this review. The great majority of reviews I’ve gotten have been five stars, so the long jump to this single star made me wonder: do I know this dude, did I screw him over? (Surely 1 star couldn’t be for the writing—not when my grandmother said I could be the next Danielle Steel.) I scoured my long list of enemies but this elderly gentleman with the Tom Selleck mustache wasn’t there. Still, something seemed amiss. Then I looked through Mr Gallison’s Goodreads booklist and I saw a pattern. A genre of books he regularly rates highly are the softcore sexcapades of the uncomfortably young; if Mr Gallison prefers skinny teen-boy tales of nervous sexuality, this was a clue.


While a quick glance at my first memoir might have suggested to some that it was a child’s erotobiography, it really isn’t. In fact, nothing I’ve written has been for the titillation of elderly gentlemen with youthful yearnings. Oklahomo would surely disappoint anyone expecting a steamy teen tell-all. Even worse, certain chapters may seem to shame certain someones with those particular leanings (Sorry, Barry).


Elsewhere, I noticed that Mr Gallison’s bio mentions that he attended an all-Christian university, this too may be a clue. While I’d never knock anyone for benign beliefs, my book does end with harsh words for a particular group of Christians who tricked, and then humiliated me when I was too young and dumb to stop them. In fact, I may have written that I wished I’d stood and screamed something obscene at them, and then shat on a bible (Sorry, Barry). Like many who peruse reviews, I do know there are examples of Christians revenge-reviewing atheist authors, which a reader might consider me to be.


If either of those scenarios explains what happened here then I’d like to reiterate: I’m sorry Mr Gallison, if something I wrote troubled you terribly—whether or not you read or bought the book. If it makes you feel any better: I respect all fetishes and most religions, and all these years later—I promise—I still haven’t shat on a book the way you’ve shat on mine. If you bought my book, thank you.

Burroughs Anderson's review of Oklahomo:

*****

"I bought this because it was recommended while i was ordering John Waters books. It's gritty and crude but highly enjoyable."

CTM's review of the above:

Dear Burroughs Anderson, I love that your review mentioned my book alongside John Waters. This has little to do with anything but it wasn’t until a year ago that I figured out that his name, John Waters, was a synonym for Toilet Waters. I don’t know if everyone else already knew that, but the realization that I hadn’t seen it sooner hit me like a ton of bricks…or rather, a bowl of turds. Anyway, Burroughs Anderson, I’m not crude so shut up! I'm glad you enjoyed my book, thank you for buying it.



(My October 13 updates start HERE)


Position's review of Oklahomo:

****

"I NEVER leave reviews, being someone on the other side of the equation—a writer, whose most well-known book is a memoir and won an important prize in Europe. But I feel impelled to tell the world what a great narrative this is, full of wry insights, a gift for irony, perspicacious character development, and a great sense of the visual. The author is aware that he regularly breaks the rules of punctuation, puts his commas where he damn well pleases, and is constructing run-on sentences on purpose. But I think that, as a result, others aren't reading this text as he hears it in his head. If only he'd spend a few hundred bucks on a copy editor or spend a couple of hours with the Chicago Manual of Style, his work would be so much more effective. Punctuation isn't just a series of boring rules, but guideposts left by a writer to ensure that the reader will hear his narrative as he hears it. As I implied further up, he tells a great story, has a light touch, and is no fool. I do think, however, that he felt the need to rationalize his lack of knowledge when it comes to the rules of style. If he'd only master them, or let someone else who knows impose them, then his notion that this book sounds to others as it does to him inside his head would truly be the case. Regardless, this is a great book. Having published nine novels, essay collections, and one memoir with mainstream presses myself, I can tell him that even those who do know the rules of punctuation end up needing another pair of eyes to ferret out tiny mistakes one has become blind to—the last step in the completion of writing a text. Come on, my friend, you're too intelligent and too gifted to settle for a half-baked manuscript."

CTM's review of the above:

There’s something surprising about this review, but I’ll save it for the end of mine.


First, I’d like to thank “Position” for the 4-star review, 4 stars ain’t bad. And I’d like to congratulate him on his own literary award: good job, my friend. His review of my book says some truly lovely things, many thoughtful comments that I’d like to see stenciled over my bed. But, because I’m the human sort, it may be the criticisms I’ll remember best. And I think that’s what the reviewer wanted.


His primary concern regards punctuation, and I think that’s a legitimate gripe. For example, I personally believe the very phrase he referenced (“the rules of style”) is blatantly oxymoronic. I believe style demands a broken rule, here and there. I won’t quibble over that though, I understand his point. Still, I do wish punctuation peeves weren’t the bulk of his observation; I’d hate for commas and periods to be his top takeaway from my book.

There’s a line in the review that is my least favorite, it begins, “If only he'd spend a few hundred bucks on a copy editor or spend a couple of hours with the Chicago Manual of Style.” I suppose I don’t love it because it assumes I’m a lazy writer; it wants you to think that I couldn’t be bothered to research grammar for even an afternoon. That bit’s somewhat insulting, and I think it contradicts not only the years I’ve spent attending college and researching rules and contemplating conformity in my writing, but also the quality of the finished product. That said~ I-will keep, his,, suggestions” about !?punctuation: in...mind;

Now for the surprising part: I know who wrote this review! Sure, it’s an anonymous name, but I’ve figured it out. It wasn’t hard to do. Months after posting his review, I believe the author emailed me through my website. He told me his name and his writing credentials, and he wanted me to know that he was a big fan. We exchanged three emails that were all very friendly and fun, talking about his books and his awards, though he never disclosed that he was the reviewer who penned public criticisms about my punctuation.

All-in-all, it was a lovely review and I appreciate its thoughtfulness. I said nothing to him about my suspicion, I think I won’t. But I know it was you B.B., I know it was you.



Candy's review of San Fransicko (Goodreads):

*****

"San Fransicko earned 5 stars because I enjoyed it on so many levels: I would look up a word definition, movie reference, footage of the Steve Lady, pine for antiques on Etsy, marvel over his photography, or read passages out loud to a friend. In so many ways San Fransicko entertained me."

CTM's review of the above:

I’d like to imagine I’d be a good parent, not only would I love my children, but I’d love them equally (which I consider to be something of a middle finger to my stepmother Berniece.) But then I read a review like the one Candy wrote, and I have to wonder: am I cursed not only with bad hair but also with favoritism?


I love her review, I love it for many reason, the first of which is that she was inspired to watch videos of my friend The Steve Lady on YouTube (Candy, I hope you saw Steve’s Kraftwerk video with Robbie D, it’s my favorite.) But even more than that, I love Candy’s commentary because of something she said outside of her review. It was a note she wrote on the Goodreads Reading Progress widget, a place where readers can comment in a realtime timeline as they experience each chapter.

I don’t want to spill a spoiler in your lap, so I’ll only say that among those Reading Progress comments was a July 7th entry that expressed the reader’s outrage and sympathy for something terrible that happened to me one night in a dark alley. About it, Candy said she was a nurse, and that she would tend to my injuries; it was very sweet in a way that makes me a little teary-eyed, and not just because of my long-expired eyelash glue. To put her comments in a larger context, consider this: even though my family and old friends and several ex-lovers have read my book, only Candy conveyed that care.

I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but today…Candy’s mine.



THAT'S IT FOR NOW, I'll blog more reviews of reviews when I can (with updates at the bottom). In the meantime: be nice to authors. They're maligned by many, paid in peanuts, and crippled from carpal tunnel syndrome. Thank you for reading my blog.


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