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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hurray! My First 1-Star Review on Amazon

Today I'm celebrating! Marina Melee received its first 1-star review on Amazon. You may ask, "Why would anyone celebrate a bad review?" It's a good question and one I've given a lot of thought. A one-star review means there's someone out there who read my book and felt strongly enough to take time out of their life to tell the world what they thought about it. Pretty heady stuff!

Click HERE to go to Marina Melee on Amazon

Similar to "there's no such thing as bad publicity," I can't imagine what's bad about someone reading my book and being compelled to further consider it long enough to write something about it--aside from the ego-pounding, soul-crushing part, of course.


For most writers, our first readers are people we know: family, friends, critique group members (who become acquaintances, if not friends), and people who know the author personally. When they read our stories, they aren't reading "a story," they're reading "Lynne's story." That has to color their perceptions (hopefully in a good way) to some degree. Those first readers tell their family and friends about our book and word spreads. We get readers who only know us indirectly. Still, there's a connection. It isn't until you get to total strangers that you run the risk of receiving a really bad review.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking for bad reviews. I don't want Marina Melee to get panned. I put years of my life, and a lot of my heart into writing my story--George's story--because it's important to me. There's deeper meaning than what's at the surface of the fictional tale and the fictional island. There is a São Jorge and George Marshall, a Kenny, LaQuisha, Jim Tudor, Albie, and all the rest exist, some of them in real life and some in my imagination, a compilation of many people I've met along the way. I want the reader to be transported to my island and get to know my friends, to share in and enjoy their madcap misadventures! I don't just want family and friends to read, either.

Once we're published and we put our work out there for the whole world to read, we're taking the risk that some won't like it. That means you've reached beyond the borders of those you know. As I've told other writers who've shared their angst over bad reviews, "Congratulations! You've moved out of the circle of family and friends."

The other part of that is to not respond to bad reviews. Don't defend or explain your work. Either the readers "get it" or they don't. Not every story is everyone's cup of tea. For now, I'll say "Hurray!" again. This critiquer got it! He fully understood what my novel is about! Clearly, I achieved what I intended. Is Marina Melee similar to Herman Wouk's Don't Stop the Carnival? You bet! I started with the working title, "Carnival Ain't Stop Yet," fully intending my novel to be an homage to Wouk's wonderful story. I set out to write the updated version of a man in mid-life crisis looking for answers in a bottle of rum on a tropical island. George's journey parallels Norman's in many ways, but with some distinct differences...particularly the ending (you'll have to read them both to find out how they end!) Whether it's Amerigo, São Jorge, St. Thomas, or any other Caribbean island, the message, the story, is the same: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Post Card of Charlotte Amalie Harbor, probably from around
the time Herman Wouk wrote Don't Stop the Carnival.
(postcard courtesy of Ronnie Lockhart)

Don't Stop the Carnival was written "decades ago": 1965 to be exact. Almost a half century ago. As George hears over and over again throughout Marina Melee, "it [Don't Stop the Carnival] is the Bible for expats in the Caribbean." That novel can tell you all you need to know about island life, then and now. Technology has improved. Cell phones, The Weather Channel, and mega-cruise ships have changed the landscape some, but the charm, the insanity, and the warmth of the people remains the same.

Charlotte Amalie today. (Photo courtesy of M. Drobnik)

Is my story really an homage, or just a cheap rip-off? I'll let the readers decide. If a one-star review gets people to read Carnival and Marina Melee to compare and see for themselves, that's fine by me. The stories are similar, but that's because the experience of anyone running away to the islands to escape their life today is similar to what Norman Paperman faced 50-years ago. If I'd wanted to avoid comparisons, I certainly wouldn't have mentioned Norman Paperman and Carnival as often as I did. I hope those references lead to a new generation of Wouk-readers! And I couldn't leave out my favorite characters from Carnival, the Sea Witches. They represent an entire group of young islanders with a zest for life that remains unchanged through the decades, from Wouk's time in St. Thomas, to my own at that age in the 80s, to my generation's kids today. A group similar to the Witches lived there when Wouk was in St. Thomas (his Amerigo) and they're there today, enjoying their own crazy adventures. On São Jorge, I morphed them into the Sand Witches because I like the pun. I didn't try to pull a fast one. The trio acknowledges that their moniker, the Sand Witches, comes from Wouk's Sea Witches. Again, it's paying respect to the timelessness of Wouk's Amerigo and its inhabitants.

Click HERE to go to Don't Stop the Carnival on Amazon.

Yes, Marina Melee is similar to Don't Stop the Carnival. As I was writing it, I hoped readers would see the similarities, would see the underlying message, the more things change the more they stay the same, and would recognize this as my tip-of-hat to Wouk for his masterpiece that is still considered "the bible for expats in the Caribbean."

Given my reviewer's comments, I think succeeded.