Friday, December 27, 2013

Making Lemonade

27th December 2014

You know how the saying goes, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade"? Well, writing is a great way to sweeten the sour, remove the stinger, defang the asp, take the poison out of any undesirable history, especially personal history. You take those who have wronged you in life and make them the villains in your book!
The reason I bring this up is that I have just run into my first bad review. It hurts, by God. I have been walking around all week with heart palpitations. One of the questions in the Q&A at the back of my book asked for my motto, which I foolishly gave as "Everything at this moment is exactly as it should be." Strange how these kinds of resolutions slip out of the radar when you hit a wall face first. Strange how you can forget that you have ever had a good review. It must be due to some facet of human nature that though you are told a million times you're beautiful, it's the one comment about a crooked nose that goes to bed with you, that gnaws at your skull, tapping like an insane woodpecker until the hole is deep and irreparable.
Before I get into this bad review, here are some good ones for Veil of Time:

“As richly detailed as a fine tapestry, Veil of Time is entrancing and enthralling from the first page to the last. Anyone who enjoys the work of Diana Gabaldon or Karen Marie Moning will adore this book. A jewel of a story! Veil of Time is time travel at its best.”

Veil of Time will enthrall you. Claire McDougall’s fine novel is both a meditative exploration on the nature of perception and sanity and a saga of the first order, a wholly captivating journey through time and the variegated yet immutable complexities of love.”
-Scott Lasser, Battle Creek

“From the moment I opened Veil of Time I was instantly swept up in the lush, haunting and wholly credible world Claire R. McDougall has created. Fiercely inventive, steeped in history and emotionally charged, Veil of Time is the gripping story of a grieving woman who is offered a second chance to rebuild her fractured family. The twist? She must relinquish her current life and return to 8th century Scotland. A powerful and thought provoking novel, reading Veil of Time is like falling into a wild, enchanting dream state from which you hope never to awaken.”
-Jillian Medoff, Hunger Point

“At long last a novel that features the mystical aspects of the temporal lobe epilepsy experience. With echoes of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife and Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand this poetically written novel tells a magical love story that spans the centuries while at the same time describing in striking detail the subjective effects of this intriguing neurological state. A brave, powerful, and incredibly moving debut novel from a very talented writer.”
-Anthony Peake, The Labyrinth of Time

So, the bad review was written by a woman who shall be nameless and goes like this: I am a longtime fan of Diana Gabaldon, and the love story in Veil of Time between Maggie and Fergus is nowhere near as good as Gabaldon's Jamie and Claire. My reviewer is very disappointed in Fergus. She can't love him. Gabaldon's hero Jamie, she says, would never have dry-humped the goddess in front of Claire the way Fergus does. How can you love a hero who dry-humps a goddess in front of his girlfriend? She places my story in 765, which is wrong (735, if you please) and she puts my heroine Maggie in a village in Scotland - wrong again. (Maggie moves to a rural cottage surrounded by nothing but the wind and the bracken.) Did she actually read my book or just skim it for dry-humps? She says the method of time travel (i.e. epileptic fits) stretches all credulity (like falling through a standing stone does not!)
Any reviewer worth their salt does not judge a book by how it matches up to another book.  I have never claimed there was any comparison between myself and Gabaldon, though, as you can see above, other reviewers have made the connection. My book is about the ephemeral nature of time, and about this particular moment in history where Christianity took over the goddess religions. As Scott Lasser says, it is an exploration on the nature of perception. All dry humps aside, this book isn't a simple romance, though it includes one.  
So I reach past the lemons for those tweezers and snip the stinger off the end of this particular scorpion's tail. The scorpion has already struck, but heart palpitations only make the poison spread faster. The lemonade part of me says that so many people will be intrigued by the idea of a "dry-hump," they'll want to read the story.
My hero Fergus is complicated and yet still alluring, thank you very much, Miss! (Just for the record, Maggie does have a problem with the dry-hump.) What I am doing is  asking the reader to step into a different time, a different set of morals, a different religious sensibility. Fergus belongs to a different era, which makes him  a little complicated for our modern day heroine.  Do you want historical fiction or just a paper-thin story? I have my own agenda, my own literary voice, and I don't need to borrow anything from another writer. This is a book written by Claire R. McDougall. It says so on the front cover, something our reviewer appears to have missed. It's a good book. A jewel of a story!
So, hand me that glass of lemonade, will you?  I will pull up my chin, and I will try not to choke.


  1. I am definitely intrigued by the dry-hump! ;)

    I think the reader needs to experience a story with the assumptions and beliefs of the time in mind (hello Huckleberry Finn). Reading through our 2016 lenses should really be reserved for social commentary and the news, don't you think?

    As for the reviewer, unless the purpose of the piece was to compare two stories--which obviously it was not--then she has made irrelevant statements and she has reflected poorly on her own writing, not yours. I totally understand what you mean about dwelling on the one negative rather than focusing on many positives. I read somewhere that it is part of the human survival system that we continually evaluate threats and return to them over and over. I like that idea better than thinking I just have a very sensitive ego :)

    Whenever faced with the anxious, hurt feeling of criticism I ask myself do I seek meaning or approval? Better to have told a story that lived inside you truthfully and to the best of your ability than to have compromised it to fit another's expectation. I haven't read the book but I do intend to find it and read it. I enjoy reading about the ups and downs of publishing!

  2. Thanks for the comforting words! Yes, I think you're right that the book has to stand alone. I never wanted "Veil Of Time" to be compared to "Outlander," which is a very different kind of book. But I suppose that was inevitable. Readers who want to be taken back to another time but don't want to be faced with any discomfort are a bit like tourists who go abroad but only want to eat their own country's food. Well, I suppose there is a whole genre (Romance) that caters to this kind of thing, but I never thought of myself in that genre. I hope my books is a little more meaningful than that!