A Writer’s Thoughts on Mixed Reviews

Marybeth Whalen

Not everyone’s going to like my book.
On one level, I know this. In my head I can manage this fact. But when my heart reads emails or published reviews that cut down the book I spent the better part of a year on? I won’t lie, it breaks a little. I hear from other authors that part gets easier. You learn that not everyone’s going to like your book. You write for those who will. Who do. You learn to move forward and not dwell on the negative.

 

The truth is, I knew that not everyone was going to like She Makes It Look Easy. I knew I would step on some toes by writing it. I was showing a side of the Christian woman’s life that people don’t really talk about, don’t really want to think can be there. To think that a Christian woman could act like Justine? To think that her Christian brothers and sisters would just stand aside and allow her to do the things she did? Well, that just shouldn’t happen.

 

But it does.

 

How do I know? I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Which is part of why I wrote the book. I was starting to hear about more and more women and men making the choices Justine made. Christian women and men. Good people. People who seemed too together, too smart, too above it all to do something so foolish. Where was the redemption? Where was the conviction? Where was the repentance?

I’ve been criticized for not showing that side of things in this story. People wanted a wrap-up that left them feeling more hopeful, more safe. And to be honest, when I started writing the book, that’s where I thought I was headed. But that’s not where  I ended up. By getting inside Justine’s head, I saw how ugly we can be, how black our hearts can be, how utterly deceived we can be. And I had to let her run with it. People have told me they don’t like the way the book ends. The truth is, neither do I. And yet, that’s the way it ends in real life more times than we’d like to face. People make dumb decisions. They justify their selfishness. They get themselves in situations they don’t feel like they can get out of. And they hurt people in the process. They turn away from redemption, conviction, and repentance in pursuit of something they’ve identified as happiness.

 

She Makes It Look Easy was not a safe book to write. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when people have strong reactions to it. I’ll keep telling myself that not everyone’s going to like my books. And I’ll keep comforting myself with the  encouraging words from those who’ve been strongly impacted by the story– by those who see themselves in these broken characters. I have to remind myself that they are who I wrote the story for.

 

About Marybeth Whalen

Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.

30 Responses to A Writer’s Thoughts on Mixed Reviews

  1. Beth Ann Reinert June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Marybeth,

    Not only did you write She Makes It Look Easy for the women who need it (and love it!), but you wrote it because God has called you write this story. While it might be difficult at times to hear words and criticism from others, remember He is smiling down on you with love.

    Blessings,
    Beth Ann

  2. Rhonda June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    I haven’t even read your book yet (But I AM) and can tell you I can relate to Justine.
    Stupid decisions, running from God and His calling, in pursuit of MY happiness (or like you said, what I thought to be happiness), wouldn’t listen to God’s convictions, (just kept running) black heart, cold and callous, and hurt my family in the process. Yes, we can and are deceived and life doesn’t always end with the ‘and they lived happily everafter.’
    Thank you, thank you, for writing that story! We need to ‘wake up’ and realize what we are doing with the remainder of our lives. God has brought me to my knees in repentence and restoration with family etc…There is hope for a better ‘ending.’ God didn’t let you hit rock bottom to ‘fall.’ He let ME hit rock bottom to Recreate Me! And He is definitely at work now that I am listening. However, like I said, I haven’t even read the book yet and can feel spiritual growth coming in reading it.
    God Bless and Hang in there!

  3. Hope V June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Marybeth,

    I am convinced, from what I know of your character through your blog and facebook, that you were called by the Lord to write this book and inspired by Him to touch upon a facet of the church people don’t want to see or discuss. It is easier for Christians to hide our heads in the sand than confront the truth sometimes and it is that kind of deception that keeps us in bondage. I pray that many who read your book will have their eyes opened and will be drawn to the Lord.

    Be encouraged, you are right in God’s will.

    Blessings,

    Hope V.

  4. Elle Amberley June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Like you said, you can’t please everyone. As a writer, it can be hard to shut off self-doubts and carry on writing the story you wanted to write.
    I’m not sure I want to read a safe story. Any way, I’m intrigued now.

  5. zibilee June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    So much of being a Christian is about tough decisions, coming to moral crossroads, and keeping yourself from being swayed by the world around you, so why not be honest and admit that? I think it takes a special kind of courage to show a Christian woman for who she really is, not who others think she should be, and having the strength to break beyond the boundaries and write what you are called to write is not only a great gift, but also shows the rest of the world that you can’t be bought or swayed into subsisting on the status quo. I really admire what you are doing, Marybeth, and remember that everyone is going to have an opinion about it. Take the good and internalize them, and throw the others away. Negativity is very rarely helpful or constructive.

  6. barbara Koob June 22, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Wow Mary Beth!! I have not read your book yet, but you just made me WANT to read it. I am so tired of fake stories that look good on the outside that never go anywhere. Gotta get a copy. BRAVO!

  7. Shelly Cantrell June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I’ve got it, but I have not read it yet: This post makes me want to pick it up right now! : )

    While I don’t know if I’ll have it read by Tuesday, I will certainly see you at the Indian Land Library!
    I am so excited that you are coming to my neck of the woods!

  8. Anne Mateer June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I loved what you did in She Makes it Look Easy. One character saw herself and made some changes–heart and attitude changes, not just outward changes–and the other did not. And I saw myself in both of them, which encouraged and convicted. And as a fellow writer, that’s what I pray my stories do, too. Encourage and convict as they also entertain. Well done, Marybeth.

  9. Kristi Deitrick June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I read your book in 2 days and I never read that quickly. I loved it. Loved it. You are a great writer and yes, life is messy and sometimes you need to write about the messy parts. It was wonderful to read Christian fiction that went a bit deeper than most Christian fiction books do. Thank you!

  10. Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth) June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I’m getting to that place where I don’t read reviews. It is just too painful and sometimes makes me question why I’m doing what I know God has called me to do. Write what’s on your heart and try to avoid reading those reviews!

  11. Danica June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I haven’t gotten my hands on this book yet – but I want to and I plan to. But I just want to say that, as an avid reader, I have found it frustrating in the past that Christian novels don’t often tough on these difficult issues although they surround us in real life. So thank-you for writing something we can really think about, and something that will really challenge us.
    Besides, if everybody loves what you’re doing, you’re probably not living your life very well. Right?

  12. Danica June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    *touch on* not tough on. oops!

  13. Teresa green June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    If you can help one person by telling this story then that may be exactly what god called on you to do. Someone that picks up your book may feel like they are the only person in the world who feels or thinks the way they do and you may step in and show them differently and they don’t need to feel bad about themselves . No it may not be for everyone… But it may be for someone!!!!

  14. Marybeth Whalen June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    These comments have been so great to read– thanks for pouring on the encouragement guys. And don’t worry about me– I am getting used to the flack and have learned to just chuckle about it and let it go. I love what Danica said about if everyone likes you you’re probably not living right. So true! So true!

  15. Ariel June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I don’t read random reviews either! The good or the bad. My rule of thumb is that if a review is sent to me by my editor, my agent, or a friend, then I read it. Otherwise nothing good comes of it, regardless of the number of stars attached.

  16. Marybeth Whalen June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Mary, it’s kind of hard to avoid when they email you and list off their grievances… sigh.

  17. Becky June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Marybeth, I have followed your blog/writing for nearly 3 years because you ARE real! I don’t want to read about sugar-coated, life-is-perfect, “fake” Christianity. I want to read about true, authentic, not-so-perfect followers who have been lavished with His amazing grace and know it! Flawed, I can relate to…perfect, not so much! Keep on being courageous, boldly proclaiming what He has placed on your heart! Satan will try to discourage you any way he can, using any one he can. Realize who your real enemy is and fight! I’ll be praying for you. ((hug))

  18. rthmhlds June 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Mary Beth

    Thank you for writing this book. Sadly it is true to real life, although so often we only hear of men in places of responsibility in churches who fall. ‘She Makes It Look Easy’ is a challenge to those of us who because of our role (in my case as a PW) tend to be looked up to – even if we wish other women didn’t., and for all Christian women because we are someone’s older woman, no matter how young we are, It is also a reminder not to become complacent because so easily we can fall into sin – none of us is exempt,
    Justine’s story had to be written, but I like that it is not completed – while there is life there is still an opportunity for repentance and God’s forgiveness.

    I can relate to Aeriel too and I like the way that you took her story as well. I could relate to her too and I like it that she although she could so easily have gone a similar way to Justine, resisted the temptation, and chose to do right although she could so easily have allowed her friendship to influence her to make different choices.

    I look forward to reading your next book, Marybeth.

  19. Andi N June 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    As a reviewer who contacted Marybeth prior to posting my review. I did so out of respect for her and her work. I was one of the reviewers who was bothered by the book. I am a woman who was cheated on by her former husband and I had a huge problem with the adultery not being portrayed as sin in the book. Maybe I am sensitive to a storyline that involves adultery, yet I don’t think so. I believe it should be shown as God says in the Bible. Justine loosing everything – that is a given with adultery, my former husband, and my now husband’s former wife both lost. Yet if it is not shown as sin, what makes the book any different than a secular book. That was my issue. With each turn of the page, I kept praying and hoping that would happen, and it didn’t. It actually broke my heart that it didn’t and I prayed long and hard about contacting Marybeth and letting her know about my review. It wasn’t one I was happy to write! 🙁

  20. Marybeth Whalen June 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    rthmhlds thank you! that is all. just, thank you.

  21. Christa Allan June 23, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Oh, sister, can I relate! I’m learning, though, that the review often reveals a great deal about the reviewer.
    And I know I need to follow Mary’s advice, and just ignore them.

  22. Kathy June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Marybeth,
    I was on a 3 day silent retreat this week and took your book with me. It spoke to me, not only in the temptation that the world presents but how easy we justify in our mind our decisions. Thank you for your gift of writing AND for your sharing in the past your top 10 songs that you run to. I am a runner also and downloaded some on my I-pod, one was Maniac and my grandkids got a hoot out of that 🙂
    Blessings and love, I look forward to your next book!!

  23. Janice Howard June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    I’m hoping this gets published because this could be my story. I was living a committed, if not terribly fruitful, relationship with Christ when my mother became ill and died w/i 6 weeks of an aggressive cancer. My rage led me into divorce, addiction, loss of a nursing license, and eventual recovery when my body became so ill that the drugs that wouuld make me high would kill me first! I hope to read your upcoming book, and the best way that could happen would be to win it, as my s.o. and I are living on my disability payment pending his getting Social Security disability. Yep, real close to starvation. But hey, I was praying to lose weight, and I have! later and God bless, shy

  24. seesawfaith June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    I loved your book. It is a novel that is overflowing with real life. I wish more non-Christ followers would understand that beleving in Christ is not a magic pill to perfect living.

    Your development of Justine was so true for so many of us. Maybe not her exact struggle and sins, but we all have them. Struggles. Selfishness that rages out of control. Blindness to the damage we are doing.

    I felt the sting several times while reading this. Not only from that aspect, but also from the realization that I too put too much focus on fitting in, finding my value in the friends I have, and wanting to be liked and included. Wanting to be what someone else appears to be.

    Again, I loved your book. When a novel entertains, takes me away, and also makes me feel convicted and compelled to take a closer look at myself and my own motives, that my friend is a good read!

  25. beesacker June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Absolutely loved this book! Very important story to be told and to be read. So true to life, we’ve all experienced this part of life. Easy to see how you could be on the other side of that fence. Thank you!

  26. L June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for your devotion running on Proverbs 31 today. Now I am really intrigued to read your latest book (I loved The Mailbox!). Its so easy for me to base my happiness on the approval I get from others or on material things, status, etc but God continually shows me that those never satisfy, even when I stubbornly don’t want to see the truth. I thought if we were home for good after traveling for four years, I’d be happy, If my husband go that new job, etc.then I’d be happy. I was even was blessed with a job that I truly enjoyed after being out of the workforce for a while but was called to come back home to be a full time mom. (My family is my first priority over job satisfaction and financial security.) But through it all, I keep coming back to the conclusion that all of that means nothing with out the peace of being in the center of His Will. I so want to be doing what He wants me to do, So even if i am comparing myself to others (and not measuring up I might add), battling bitterness and unforgiveness in my heart toward a loved on, struggling with surrender with God, the bottom line for me is that “In Him I live and move and have my being”. So I once again go back to my heavenly Father, climb on His lap and bring my selfish nature to Him and ask Him to mold it for His glory. Your writing always resonates a chord in me, sometimes it is not something I want to look at but necessary. So thank you for not sugarcoating your walk with Him or your novels, thank you for being real with us. I so appreciate your transparency.

  27. SuSu June 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    I just finished your book and LOVED it! I ordered it after reading the devotion you wrote on comparing ourselves to other women. This is something as women we face continuously, me in particular! One of my favorite quotes is “Comparison is the THEIF of JOY.” This is so true and I think Ariel was letting this happen to her in your story. I was so happy to read a realistic portrait of how this can happen in day to day life. Your book was such a great reminder that the “grass is not always greener on the other side.” We need to know God has planted us right where we need to be! Thanks!

  28. Bonnie Holmes June 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Mary Beth,

    I heard you speak at a Women’s Dinner one night and you were amazing. I must admit I have not read your book yet but it is on my list to read. Things have been rather tough lately. I underwent an horrendous spinal tap where the doctor was unable to draw the spinal fluid after an hour of digging in my back and ended up in the hospital. I won’t get the results until this coming Wed. Please pray for me, that I will have the strength to deal with the anxiety of waiting and the results, whether positive or negative.

    Thank you,
    Bonnie

  29. Stephanie from LA June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    This is the first Christian novel I have read since high school and I’m 38! I absolutely love it! I admire you for not stooping to a simple teen love story. I’m married, with kids, and I work – I have seen more of life and I want a novel that respects that. I believe you nailed the outer and inner dynamics of networking in church, vying for power in social circles, how the grass still needs to be cut on the other side, and all sorts of things in the middle. You write what I either have thought or suspected someone was thinking about me! Keep on keepin’ on and I look forward to your next book! In the meantime, what other books do you recommend that are similar to the genre of “She Makes It Look Easy?”

  30. LynnF June 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Mary Beth,

    I enjoyed how you unfolded the story. The points of view of both Ariel and Justine were peeks into two different struggles. Interestingly, both women thought the other made life look easier than their own. I imagine this is true of most of us.

    I disagree with Andi N (the reviewer who thought the adultery was not called out as sin). Just as there are many kinds of metaphors, there are many ways to call something sin without using the words. As far as metaphors go…some are clearly stated, some have a portion clearly stated and a portion that is implied, and some are clearly implied. Justine’s adulterous acts don’t need to be labeled as sin. It is clear they are sinful. This was played up through Ariel’s concerns, Erica’s experience, and Betsy’s past dealings with her husbands issue. Even Justine acknowledged her family should be first, she wasn’t walking with God, and she felt it was time some of her needs were met. Ariel’s thoughts/feelings about the guy at the dance club and about withholding that information from her husband brought out the struggle she was having and also implied its sinful nature.

    I appreciated the ending tremendously. Most literature does not have a happy ending at all. Your story in part had a happy ending for Ariel but not for Justine. While Justine’s ending is not brought to a neat resolution, tied with the bow of confession and redemption; the implications are that Tom will eventually cheat on her and she’ll know what it is she did to Betsy. You allow your readers to make these connections for themselves.

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