Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No Matter How You Slice It!

HANK: The secret to her success? Cheese. More on that in a minute. But she's always got a smile and a warm welcome. She's the hardest workin' woman in show biz. (She was one of my first pals in mystery world--we started out as new Guppies together. Know what that means? If not, read on.) And she's a true friend of Jungle Red. We are button-burstingly proud of new national best-seller Avery Aames.

Avery is an overnight success! It just took about...two decades of perseverance and guts and dedication. And--along the way--some criticism. Yikes. Some pretty tough criticism.

Don’t Let Criticism Crush You!
AVERY: Criticism. What you do with it might speak worlds about who you are and where you are in your life.

My parents always thought I was talented. They praised me. They critiqued me, as well, but always with love. According to them, I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I happened to be an overachiever, so they didn’t have to praise too hard. I carried a mental whip in my head at all times. Do better, do it faster.

I had always loved to write. Around the age of eleven, I’d tried my hand at a number of Nancy Drew chapters. When I hit the impressionable age of twelve, I encountered an English teacher who advised me I shouldn’t consider writing my future vocation. In fact, I remember a comment on a paper from him saying that I had no talent.
Can you imagine writing that to an impressionable twelve-year-old? No talent? Whatsoever?
Because I respected the teacher, the comment speared an arrow through my creative soul. For the rest of the year, I tried to put the comment from my mind, and I concentrated on the thing in which I “was” talented…math.
And yet I liked the creative arts: writing, dancing, acting. So in eighth grade--when I was feeling pretty cocky and assured--I put aside the teacher’s words and tried my hand at writing a play. It was a snarky turn on The Night Before Christmas. It earned rave “peer” reviews. Laughs were good, silliness even better. I didn’t lord my success over my former teacher. I had moved on. [At least I had convinced myself that I had.]

Then I entered high school, and somehow I was “blessed” with another teacher who wanted to thwart me. As I studied Shakespeare, all of my former teacher’s negativity roiled through my mind. My hand froze when it came to putting pen to paper. I didn’t believe I could write anything worthwhile. Oh, I could write a thesis paper. I had the talent to argue a case. But could I write something creative? Not a chance. All trial chapters of my first mystery fell into the waste basket. All my poetry was shredded into confetti. Snarky plays? A thing of the past. I sought solace on the stage (with scripts or plays written by “masters). And I focused on math.

I moved on to college, and I chose as my major…math. That lasted about a semester. I truly understood algebra and geometry, but trig and calc and beyond? Oh, my, no. English continued to woo me like a siren. I wanted to read. I wanted to create. I returned to studying the written word by convincing myself that if I couldn’t “do,” then I could teach.

I would have been a good teacher, but life took a turn in my senior year. I was offered an opportunity that led me to Los Angeles, and I made a living as an actress for a number of years. I acted in “Murder, She Wrote,” and “Hart to Hart” and “Matlock.” I sold Wonder Bread and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Diet Pepsi. I danced and sang on stages around the country.

Along the way, I decided to try my hand at writing a screenplay.

What happened? You guessed it. All those little snipes from my teachers came back to haunt me. I stunk. I wasn’t any good whatsoever. But I was determined to become good, to erase the “tapes” in my head that said I couldn’t be. I took classes. I wrote a number of scripts. I won awards. But every time an agent rejected me, every time a fellow author would read my material and make a comment, I would crumble. Their words would splice through the scar tissue that had built up over the years--scar tissue knitted together with the words: You stink, you can’t do it, you might as well give up.

Luckily, I joined a Sisters in Crime Internet group called the Guppies. I had left Los Angeles (for my husband’s career) and I didn’t know where to turn locally for a writing group, but I wanted to write. I needed to write. I’d started writing my first mystery. It stunk. (I didn’t need my seventh grade English teacher to tell me.) I needed to learn about story arc, and developing character. I needed a critique group, and to learn everything I could about the business. I needed to learn how to handle rejection and how to persevere. (You’ve probably heard the phrase, “This is a hard business.” It is.) The group got me through the dark times, through the criticism, through the rejection. They still do.

I’m paid to write now (yeah!), but I will continue to get criticism. From my agent, from my editor, from those lovely reviewers (professional and non) who will that I stink and I should give up.

But I will persevere, because writing is what I love to do. Need to do. It is a journey. How I handle the criticism will tell eons about who I am.

Believe you can.

HANK: GO Guppies! And such a good segue for Avery to bring it up--because tomorrow we're featuring the Guppies--and the very clever and helpful way they--I mean we!--we handle crit groups. And how you can get in on the fun! (Wait til you see some of the manuscripts that are ready to go...amazing! And thanks for letting me snag the Guppy logo.)
But for now...what's the meanest thing anyone's ever said about your work? Did you have a teacher or professor who gave you nightmares? Or did you have one that changed your life in a good way?
(I keep remembering that review someone got on Amazon, I forget who. But the review said: "Your book was so bad, I wish I could unread it.")

HANK: I found that snazzy photo of actress "Daryl Wood" on IMDb....hmm..doesn't she look..familiar?
Avery Aames is the author of The Long Quiche Goodbye, the first in A Cheese Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. The Long Quiche Goodbye debuted July 6 and has already hit national bestseller mass market paperback lists -- #7 for Barnes and Noble and #13 for Bookscan. Avery likes to read, cook, garden, and do amateur photography.
She blogs at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, a blog for foodies who love mysteries,
as well as at Killer Characters, a blog overtaken by cozy authors’ characters,
You can purchase The Long Quiche Goodbye at Avery’s bookseller page:
And look for a sneak preview of Lost and Fondue, book two in the series, which may be found at the end of The Long Quiche Goodbye.


  1. The meanest thing anyone said about my work? A welsh newspaper once wrote "It was so bad I couldn't put it down." Naturally I used the quote for several years. "I couldn't put it down," North Wales Daily Mail.

  2. Oh, Rhys, that's hilarious!

    When I took ballet as a kid, Madame D'Anguera took my mother aside, and said:

    "Your daughter is charming, but she will never be a ballerina. I cannot teach her."

    I WAS NINE! Geez. I didn't want to be Maria Tallchief (too much..) I just wanted to dance around.

  3. Actually I had a dance teacher, Hank, who said I would never be a ballerina. She didn't mean I couldn't dance. She meant I couldn't be a "ballerina." She added that I had the passion of a tiger and to never let anyone take that away from me. (A good thing) Some comments have to be read and re-read (mentally). And if they're still bad, do what Rhys did-- use the best part to your advantage! (Great story, Rhys!)

    ~Avery (who is, yes, also Daryl Wood or Daryl Wood alter ego...who has suffered the same criticism, go figure.)

  4. The dance teacher's name was NOT Hank. Sheesh. Eat, shoots, and leaves (with the commas in previous comment). LOL


  5. Yeah, Avery, I think mine meant I couldn't dance. But, okay, I guess she meant, as you suggest, "dance."

    I also can't "sing."

  6. Hank, can you sing to your heart's content? That's a whole different kind of singing! :)

    And should be encouraged.


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  8. Hey, Avery - welcome back to JRW! I love that: passion of a tiger! Wish someone ad said that to me.

    Oh, you are brave, Rhys! I try not to read negative reviews. Zingers and put-downs are hard to forget.

    After my first book came out...AMNESIA in the Peter Zak series back in 2000, I went to a get together of folks who post on the listserv DorothyL. A man there told me he'd read my book. "Did you like it?" I said. "Not particularly," he said, so off-hand.

    To be fair, he was just calling it like he saw it, and not even being particularly mean about it. Here's what I learned: Don't ask.

  9. The meanest thing anyone said about my work might not have been exactly mean and wasn't exactly even a comment, but made me feel bad regardless.

    Growing up, I loved to sing, but wasn't good at it. Whenever I sang, my mother would clear her throat, indicating that I should stop singing, because she would clear her throat until I did stop, lol. At times, she told me to "round" my mouth and not sing through my nose. :-)

  10. Okay Hank,
    So the meanest thing my dance teacher did was NOT TAKE my mother aside and tell me I would never be a ballerina. I was five foot ten for God's sake, incredibly inflexible, the only kid who couldn't do splits, and my size eleven feet were NOT meant for toe shoes.

    laurissa, I totlaly relate on the singing front. I loved to sing and my mother, supportive of everything else in the extreme, would roll her eyes and shake her head. This didn't stop me from singing in jr. high school plays, but it did nag at me. This sense I wasn't that good. And I did not try out for high school plays.

    Later in life, I started to play guitar and I took three years of singing lessons and its AMAZING how much simple things can transform your voice.

    Almost everyone can learn to sing. And its a lot easier than ballet.

    Then, when I was about forty, my mother was up here, and heard me singing to my kids. She said hey, you have a good voice, I never knew that.

    I wanted to smack her.

  11. Avery,
    I got so caught up in Hank's question, I forgot to say what I meant to start off with.

    What a great, inspirational story!! Congrats on the book and being a bestselling phenom!!

    It sounds like it couldn't happen to a nicer person.

  12. Ah,Jan, I see your point...perhaps Madame was being kind.

    Did your Mom have ANY idea of the history of what she said? What a moment that must have been..!

  13. No memory at all. And since it was pretty much the only thing she didn't tell me I was great at, I didn't even point it out.

    Also, my mother was an incredible clutter bug, which was what I focused on. And when I traveled to Poland with her for three weeks later in life, I realized for the first time that she was extremely organized. When I said, with surprise: I never knew you were organized, she said: "How could you NOT know that about me??"

    She was right:
    So maybe the people closest to you don' t always see you the clearest.

  14. 10 minutes ago some guy on the Wall Street Journal site said my response to a WSJ whack-job op-ed was cute. That hurt like concertina wire. I imagine.

  15. Oh, the meanness adults can inflict on children! I so sympathize! When I was in high school I had an English teacher who handed a paper back to me and declared (in front of the entire class) that the reason I got an F was because my sister had obviously written the paper -- I wasn't capable(she'd had him the year before). I was mortified--barely passed the class. Only years later did I realize the compliment he hadn't intended!

    And, by the way, you are so right about Guppies. Absolutely the best place for a writer!

  16. Mean things...?

    I once had a college professor who told me that there was no way I was capable of keeping up with 6 courses in one semester (4 of them were art history). And he was my counselor! Still, I took the course load, aced the classes, and learned how much I enjoyed conducting research and writing papers.

    Congrats, Avery, on your "overnight" success. The Guppies are proud of you!

  17. Okay, my mind is a-whirl, and I could have sworn I replied to many of these posts. (Only in my mind??)

    Hallie "not particularly" is certainly the most blase response I've ever heard. That means he finished it. :)

    Laurissa, isn't it amazing that a little thing like a tsk, clearing throat, or "round your mouth" can come out as criticism? How we must watch our words and reactions.

    Jan, thank you for the pat on the back. It's been a fun couple of weeks. Nice to find out, with so many unsold manuscripts on my shelves, that one was "good enough." [Thankfully the publisher wanted this hook.]

    Gene - cute? Yes! That's a word that can cut and people think it's such a "nice" word. :)

    Diane and Susan - sometimes all we need is a "no, you can't" to think "yes, I can!" Let's hear it for grit!


  18. congratulations again Daryl/Avery! it's so neat that you have had two such interesting, creative careers.

    I'm blanking on my worst criticism (Hallie would approve!)--something to do with pedestrian prose:).

    I was not much of a ballerina either, but then I never ever practiced. I still have it in my mind that if I work at something--most things--I could become decent at them. maybe that's not so, but don't tell me, okay?

  19. SOmeone wrote me, so snidely, that I hadn't given a clue to the key to the mystery at the beginning of the book. But I did, I did I absolutely did. Big time. They just missed it.

    When I emailed, oh so nicely, that I had, too, and told where it was and indicted how clear it was, the email came back "undeliverable."


  20. Hank, we can't please everyone, can we? Thank you so much for allowing me to be on the blog today. I think I learned that we have all faced criticism. How we cope is so essential, isn't it??

    Best to all and believe you can.
    ~ Avery

  21. Avery, that's true--but as authors, we keep trying, don't we? It's kind of odd...

    But you're an inspiration!

    Tomorrow, come back, all, for the answer to the burning question: Got a Match?

    Friday: Something completely different. (As always.)

    And Saturday--a new mystery author--whose husband you might just recognize.

  22. Avery, that's true--but as authors, we keep trying, don't we? It's kind of odd...

    But you're an inspiration!

    Tomorrow, come back, all, for the answer to the burning question: Got a Match?

    Friday: Something completely different. (As always.)

    And Saturday--a new mystery author--whose husband you might just recognize.

  23. I once overheard two high school teachers commenting on a writing competition I had entered. "We only had two submissions, and one was so awful we didn't even consider it." Since I wasn't the winner, I knew which one they thought was awful. I didn't write fiction again until I was sixty. Now I wish that I hadn't waited so long to try again.

  24. I took a poetry courses from Stephen Spender when he was Poet Laureate of England and was thrilled to be his student. But, at the end of the course, for my evaluation, he sat and asked, "Why to you write poetry?"

    I stumbled through an explanation and he just repeated that question at least three times.

    I assumed he meant I shouldn't writer poetry, so I didn't. For years. I turned to prose, and I'm glad I did!

  25. Oh, Grace, that is terrible! I'm so sad that you had to hear that...
    You got revenge, though. You turned out *so* nicely!

  26. Kaye, might he have just been going through the motions? Or trying to get you to think? What a truly interesting memory...was he a good teacher, at least?