The big “R” in the reality of reviews

This is an argumentation style essay which is by nature meant to be confrontational and elicit a strong response from readers. Certain elements which some might find inflammatory have been included, but that was part of the assignment. If you’ve read other of my pieces here, you’ll have discovered these were written for a university course I’ve just completed this week. (Damn glad it’s over too).

“What do I value in a review? Even if someone chooses to “rate” one of my stories low yet give a comment or feedback on their reasons or thoughts, I appreciate that. The reader took their time not just to give my work a chance by purchasing it, but also to share their observations. Whether I agree with their comments or not, I know that a review is a subjective medium of literary discussion so I accept their individuality. But what if the reader negatively addresses a topic or issue they, by nature, have no experience with? How can I maintain my objectivity in the face of such bias? The simple answer is: “I do not.”

On a particular website for readers with a database of several million books, any member whether professional or casual, can create a profile then add as “currently reading”, “to-read”, or “have read” to any volume then write a review and choose a star rating, one through five. Though for one book I’ve written which has been positively reviewed at a number of professional review sites, I was not shocked to see a rating of two stars with the comment, “This story starts and when it gets interesting its over, lol. There is definitely something in this start, but it’s to short to say more about it. Jamie is to young, to emotional and Derrick is to closed up and to mysterious. There is to little information about both main characters but in good epilogue for something serious writing.” (Goodreads.com) The person was from a European country not writing in their native language so I struggled to understand exactly what they meant, but I knew it was not positive. I did thank them, which is my reply to all reviews, but further explained for anyone who might view their comment corrections about their view of the story’s intent. I also went to their profile to view their rating history.

This reviewer consistently rated very low books by male authors of gay fiction (many of which have received very high marks across the board)  while rating highly “m/m fiction”, a similar genre to gay fiction, but arguably differentiated by it’s inclusion of explicit sexual details, written by female authors. When I read a female negatively stating a story was boring or bad, or the characters, relationship or sexual interaction not believable because they didn’t “feel” right to them I am absolutely incredulous they could have the audacity to say so when it was a gay male writing them and they know utterly how gay relationships can progress, and how they live and love.

For any of my gay fiction books, I very well know I do not write the “average” more sexual or happily ever after (no matter what) ending, nor do I try to present aspects and interactions between those in a same sex relationship in terms or ways heterosexuals can more readily understand. Some things naturally do “translate”, some things do not. I inject a strong current of realism which is crucial to my characters personalities and behaviours. But when I read a woman say, “The feelings (of the character) are just not real for me”. Are they kidding? I ask that rhetorically because I know they are serious.

They cannot necessarily understand or feel to be “real” a man, especially a gay man’s feelings, so why should they badly rate that author’s story because of their own inability? Perhaps they need to stick to work written by female writers who feminize their male character’s actions and even speech patterns, then it can be “real” to those females, as insane as that sounds. Think about: such females readers seem to only be able to feel as being accurate and “real” male characters written by females. If I or most other gay males read them, we can immediately dismiss them because that’s not how it goes, the writer’s lack of personal, intimate knowledge is obvious. What I find even more ludicrous is the fact many of these female writers ask around among gay male writing colleagues intimate details they can include in their books. What I want to ask these women is why are they writing about a topic and lifestyle they can never personally know, only too often misrepresenting it to gullible female readers who then negatively rate gay male writers works because they take female writers work as “gospel”? What I want to ask these female readers/reviewers is how can rate poorly accurate and correct details by a male writer just because they can’t personally understand them?

I absolutely respect the fiction genre, and the fact a writer can create whatever characters, situations and scenes they wish even if completely inaccurate or incorrect in details. It is their right to publish them as well and readers to purchase and enjoy them for what they are. But when it comes down to criticism of passages and scenes with which they personally have zero experience: male/male gay sex, relationships, actions, etc. it would be like me criticizing a memoirist detailing their battle with cancer, or suffering in a concentration camp by telling them what they wrote wasn’t “real” or “believable” when these are things I haven’t experienced. I find it completely outrageous so many female reviewers do so. How many male readers do you know write a review if reading a historical fiction book about the Old West of the USA, during which time many women died during childbirth, and remark the description of that sad event didn’t seem real or believable? Maybe they have better sense even if they thought it. But for a woman to critique a gay male sex scene or character negatively when they have no idea what it is like to feel that anyway? Unconscionable!

I might critique someone’s writing style but not the content for that would be insulting, in effect questioning their knowledge and sincerity. I might write a story after observing a patient with cancer or a survivor of the Holocaust, or from a series of researches I have made, and I might be able to authentically do so in certain crucial aspects but it is still not the same as personal knowledge someone who has actually endured such. So the big “R” in the reality of some reviews is actually a fantasy concept of some kind, at least those given by some reviewers.

Draw the line and don’t cross it, nor let them step onto your side. Keep your cool. Write what you wish to write, however it is, male or female, accurate or inaccurate. Even opinion like mine or some of the ideas I expressed above ultimately are irrelevant. It’s your story after all, and no one is going to like everything. It only matters that you like your work.”

And you might be surprised, if you’re a reader who has never visited by blog, by a previous article “Female Writers of M/M Fiction: My Thoughts”: …”In the same way, some straight women or other females can do their research, get the feel for it, and create outstanding gay fiction (NOTE: I used the different term!). It can be done. It has been done. It will keep being done, and I salute their efforts….”

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