Is it Okay to Have an Opinion?

My comments on this blog about Ken Bruen’s THE GUARDS has sparked a spirited debate here, on Sarah Weinman’s blog, and several other blogs out there. A number of people… authors, in particular… are upset that I posted my criticisms of the book publicly. Author Charlie Stella, on Sarah’s blog, wrote:

Goldberg doesn’t get what all the excitement is about? Okay, fair enough. Like some of the commentators, I don’t get what all the excitement is about some other writers … and I’m sure there are people who upchucked their lunch at reading my stuff as well. I have to wonder why Goldberg took the public potshot, though … unless the guy is just another jerkoff.

To which, Jennifer Jordan wrote:

I didn’t interpret Mr.Goldberg’s post as a pot shot but perhaps you feel any opinion made in a public forum is such. What I got from it, in the end was more a feeling of tiredness with the P.I. genre. It could well be that he hoped to incur the reactions that he’s gotten because, as Sarah said, these very reactions say a lot about Bruen’s writing. He could have made these comments about quite a few authors and not had the ‘public outcry’ that he has here. The outright anger is a testament to Bruen, who is the only author that can instill fear in me by saying he’ll come into town for a drink. That is the biggest damn drink you’ll ever take. Oddly, I don’t see many jumping to Kathy Reichs defense.

I think that’s because Kathy Reichs doesn’t hang out at Bouchercon or at other "crime writer events" socializing with other authors and mystery lovers. Ken Bruen does.

And he’s also a very, very nice guy with a strong literary voice and sharp prose. Kathy’s prose isn’t as accomplished.

He’s greatly admired by a tight-knit group of noir lovers and authors. Kathy Reichs isn’t.

He’s also received numerous accolades for his work from respected novelists and crime writing organizations. Kathy Reichs hasn’t.

But I think the most significant difference, as far as Kathy being fair game and Ken being off-limits, is that she’s a lot more successful, commercially, than he is. Far more, in fact.

Which raises an interesting issue, one that John Rickards, on his blog Empire of Dirt, discusses:

Patricia Cornwell brings out Trace and everyone slates it. Everyone. Come to that, everyone freely uses her, along with Dan Brown, James Patterson etc. etc. as examples of kinda crappy commercial fiction.

No one objects. At least, not round here, virtually speaking.

Is there some ‘upper ceiling’ of commercial success or profile above which a writer becomes fair game for those outside? Is it because few, if any, of us – the reader, the other writer, the reviewer – know these people in person and can therefore say what we like without fear of reproach?

Is there, at least amongst people ‘in the industry’ – and this is where Craig’s comment comes in – a sense that you shouldn’t shit where you sleep? Rather like Hunter S Thompson’s observation of the Washington press corps in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 that they were too chummy with the politicians they were covering and that so much was kept ‘off the record’ because journos didn’t want to offend their friends on the Hill – are we so cosy with one another that we’re afraid of saying what we think?


I’d be curious to hear your answers to that question.

Personally, I think if Kathy Reichs hung out at conventions, was more active in professional organizations (PWA, MWA, SinC) and was friends with lots of authors, and crime writing aficionados, she’d "off-limits" as well, regardless of the creative merits or commercial success of her work.

6 thoughts on “Is it Okay to Have an Opinion?”

  1. I’m late to the fray…but everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. If you disagree thats fine, but don’t attacked the person, attack the reasons as to why you disagree or, in more friendlier terms, politely agree to disagree.
    I like Bruen’s material and I respect Lee’s thoughts on having read enough of the loner PI type. Enough said!

  2. I applaud you for posting your comments publicly. I’ve always believed–or at least hoped–it was possible to debate and come to an informed difference of opinion. Your argument seemed very well made to me, not a hatchet job, as some respondents seemed to take it.
    I do think there’s a tendency to pull back from criticizing the work of authors who are polite, friendly, and other varieties of good folk. I, for one, appreciate any feedback on my work–positive or negative–as long as it’s grounded in what’s on the page. But then, commentary beyond the page isn’t true feedback in the first place.
    True feedback is a reader’s honest interpretation of the material; it’s about what’s written, not about who wrote it.

  3. I’m not upset that you posted your comments. Fine.
    I’m just responding to your comments. You put them out there in public. I think you’re wrong and I said so, said why I think so. If you put out public opinions, you get public response.
    We defended Ken because he hangs out with us? Huh?
    No: it’s like this.
    I’ve *read* Ken Bruen and like the work. I have *not* read Kathy Reichs, don’t want to, and if someone were to say something about her work, I wouldn’t have a response.

  4. I think Lee has a point here. Ken Bruen is liked personally by a lot of people in the crime fiction community. If someone thinks you’re trashing one of their friends, they’re gonna speak up. At least they ought to. Hell, if you can’t count on your drinking buddies to stand up for ya, then who will? (Note: I don’t think Lee was trashing Ken.)
    Let’s face it, if folks thought Bruen was an ass, nobody would come to his defense, even if he were a great writer.
    Part of the fun of reading is discussing the work with other people. For the most part the discussion has been civil and I’ve found it interesting. It’s made me more interested to give Bruen’s work a try. What more could a fan hope for?

  5. Neil wrote:

    I’m not upset that you posted your comments. Fine. I’m just responding to your comments. You put them out there in public. I think you’re wrong and I said so, said why I think so. If you put out public opinions, you get public response.

    With all due respect, Neil, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. I’m not surprised people are defending Bruen’s work…I’m surprised by how personally some, like you, have taken my comments. For instance, you wrote:

    I think you’ve been in DIAGNOSIS: MURDER-land too long if you’re making these gripes about THE GUARDS…
    …Grammatical tricks? Lists? That weakens the work? Me thinks I hear an old fogey speaking.

    I’m not saying I’m offended…I’m not. I have a very, very thick skin (I wrote for BAYWATCH, after all!). But I think it’s interesting that my appreciation for Bruen’s prose, but disappointment with THE GUARDS, provokes such an emotional reaction from you, Charlie Stella, and others.

  6. This is the last one I’m responding to. I can’t believe it’s still an issue. And I’m only responding to say THIS IS NOT PERSONAL.
    To talk about your PROFESSIONAL experience (and I think if you talk about cliche and characterization in fiction, then we need to bring in your own work as a writer, TV and novels both) in this context is entirely appropriate to the conversation.
    As for the “old fogey” comment, it’s a tongue-in-cheek way to say you seem to prefer a very traditional writing style to those who risk an experimental voice (Ellroy and Bruen), what you call a “trick”. Modernism has been around a hundred years. To play with lists and voice and phrasing isn’t even that new, but it is not traditional. It’s also not a “trick”.
    Yes, I react strongly in the professional context, but I cannot agree with your continued assertion that I’m taking it “personally”. This reminds me of political campaigns: Talk about an opponent’s PROFESSIONAL record, and watch how fast the opponent calls it a “personal” attack. No, not at all.


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