Last week I received an e-mail from someone who contacted me through the website, and he commented on the recent posts and exchanges regarding the subject of criticism and reviews.
As a critic/reviewer himself, he raised the question as to whether there was justification and validity in 'reviewing' a piece of music, literature, a film, even a football match if the reviewer was not themselves a musician/writer/actor or director/footballer etc. The answer was unquestionably and resoundlingly a 'Yes!', of course a review can be done by someone who was not themselves an expert in that field. Why? Because, essentially, we felt that a review and a criticism were two different things. Everyone has unique and individual tastes and preferences. You can recognize the value and worth of something even though it might be something that doesn't suit your personal tastes. I think where we have gone with this objective look at the subject is the realization and recognition that a very small percentage of people do not give an honest review, but rather wish to tear something to pieces to suit some other vested interest or ulterior motive. That, therefore, by definition, cannot be considered a review.
I was also asked a couple of questions regarding A Quiet Belief In Angels, and as they were questions that I have been regularly asked, I thought it would do no harm to post the body of my reply, removing - of course - all personal references. I am sure my correspondent will not mind such a liberty!
So, as follows...
Initially, I must say I find it remarkably refreshing to be in touch with someone who remains decisive in their viewpoint. It seems that people are somewhat afraid to have a definitive viewpoint about things, and are often careful to say not what they mean, but what they believe others wish to hear. I think the PC-mad insanity of this current culture is predominantly to blame, but that is another discussion for another day. Being so driven to write, I often find myself in a situation where there are many things I have a viewpoint about that have no place in a novel. That was the primary reason for starting the web log 'The Ellory Journal' - merely an opportunity to express myself on certain subjects. It has promped some interesting responses, especially most recently when I posted a brief number of thoughts regarding the whole subject of criticism.
As for the writing of Quiet Belief, I think you might have a perspective on this if you read the books in the sequence they were written. Candlemoth was first, then Ghostheart, A Quiet Vendetta, then City of Lies preceded AQBIA. They are all very different, almost different styles in some instances. It has been commented on a number of occasions that if the covers were removed there might even be those who could not necessarily identify them as the work of one author. Personally, I have taken this as a compliment. Nothing would please me less than the feeling (on the part of a reader) that they were all much of a muchness, that there was little to differentiate between them. Reading them in sequence, certainly for me, begins to feel like a progression, and there also seems to be an emerging theme, as if there are three types of novels - Candlemoth and AQBIA, a kind of rites of passage, more slow-burn exploration of human nature and circumstance; then Ghostheart and City of Lies, both faster-paced, perhaps a more traditional crime thriller; thirdly, a kind of epic saga spanning many, many years and dealing with organized crime as is found in A Quiet Vendetta, and also the new book in September. The book beyond that (for 2009) will be a faster-paced thriller, and then for 2010 I am working on another novel more like Candlemoth and Quiet Belief.
The thing that impels me is the idea that each book is a journey in its own right. To a degree that goes some way towards explaining why I set the books in the States. I have no doubt that an excellent book could be written in an English setting, but at this time it doesn't appeal to me. The States presents a seemingly broader canvas, and the subjects I want to write about just would not work in Tewkesbury or Chichester!
And as far as AQBIA is concerned, what I wanted to do was present the life of a character. It will probably be something that you recognize in the other books, the idea of an ordinary individual in an extraordinary situation. I find myself constantly writing characters into emotionally challenging situations that I know will 'stretch' my ability as an author. When faced with the prospect of sending a character down one of two roads, I will pick the one with no pavement, no tarmac, strewn with rubble and dense with undergrowth! The easier option never appears to be an option for me.
And at what point did I decide on the guilty party in Quiet Belief? Actually, very close to the end. I do not methodically plan novels. I do not sit and work out where they will go per se, but I do establish quite early on the emotional range of the thing and the kind of thoughts and feelings I would hope to leave with a reader once the novel had been read from start to finish. The location, the central character, the emotional impact. Those are the things that occupy my mind more than anything else. This explains why your e-mail pleased me so much (the e-mail expressed the view that AQBIA was not really a 'crime thriller' in the strict sense of the term). I didn't intend to write a 'thriller'. I intended to write the biography of an ordinary individual thrust into extraordinary situations. And the point you made right at the end about the identity of the killer almost being an aside was so accurately perceptive it made me smile. The book was never intended to be a 'whodunnit'. None of my books are. My books - as far as I am concerned - are supposed to be nothing more than an opportunity for the reader to become briefly lost in someone else's life. Seems to me that an author has a responsibility to transport a reader somewhere where the reader has not been, cannot go, would not want to go, or wished to go but could not. Something like that.
Anyway, I ramble. I thank you for your time, your interest, your support and encouragement.
And that was the end of my reply!
So, there we have it. An update on some of the attitudes that have been expressed regarding review and criticism, and an answer to a couple fo questions: Why do I write American? and How do you approach the writing of a novel?
Keep in touch. It's great to receive so many e-mails (more than 400 in the last month!) And I ALWAYS reply!
Take care, best wishes, speak soon.