My joy at being a writer has taken another blow.
"Never respond to bad reviews." It's like Author 101 - never respond to reviews, ever. It's the dumbest thing an author can do. So, naturally, I am. And Cyberman Ben (the one-star reviewer), if you read this, I'm not pissed off, just sad. See? Look at me being sad...
Dear Cyberman Ben. One star? What can I say? Ouch. I’m disappointed you didn’t enjoy my novel. My intention was to visit the near future, explore the world, and have an adventure or two in a way that would engage my brain and potential readers. In that, I’ve failed you.
In regards to Sparrow, the “process” for character construction, in case you’re curious, is chaotic. You begin researching the topic, in this case The Future, by studying the past to understand, roughly, where we are now. From that cloud of ideas, phrases, stray thoughts and loose understandings, you extrapolate likely paths and chosen trends you’d like to explore, as they evolve into a hypothetical future.
The workload for researching spec-fic, btw, is similar to that of researching for a historical novel in that you’re required to wade through shelves of oral histories, interpretations of events, a host of niche topics, and a lot of unexpected study. You find yourself selecting seedlings from these readings in order to group and plant ideas, facts and connections, letting some grow, pruning others, allowing some to die. During this gardening, plus the 3am musings, and being lost in thought while walking the dogs or washing the dishes, characters emerge from the surrounding fog and forest.
At first they’re at the periphery of your vision, unclear and vague. Then, as your research becomes more focused, they tend to make themselves known, and a conversation takes place. Who are you? What do you do? Why do you do it? Where are you from? All this, odd as it may seem, is a two-way interaction – the author isn’t spared a critical interrogation about their motives and agendas.
Because all of the characters in The Last Circus on Earth are oppressed in one or more ways, Sparrow, for example, emerged as a furious and determined reaction to the worst kind of oppression – locked-in syndrome (a syndrome I encountered irl when I was a critical care nurse). I found that Sparrow is never passive, uncritical or solely focused on being anyone’s ‘love interest’, Blanco included, as she makes clear on a few occasions. She drives her own life, and this determined selfhood is another aspect of creating and writing characters.
At a certain point, as the fictional ensemble grows, evolves and clarifies, the author’s job is less to direct story than it is to herd cats. Then, even this attempt at control is largely abandoned to the point where you feel you’re merely running alongside the characters, taking notes as they all do what they will.
In any event, I hope this note from me is of some slight interest to you. I felt I had to write it for myself to get past the hurt. My first dreaded ‘one-star’ review is something I hoped I’d never get, and I can assure you it stings. Experienced authors say to ignore reviews, but when you’ve spent years on a project, narrowly won a publishing deal, and faced the prospect of showing other people – readers – your efforts, it’s genuinely scary wondering what they might think. The horrors of public speaking are over quickly, but a published book is out there forever, and, as staunch as an author needs to be, it’s a part of your deepest self that readers will like or loathe.
Then, debuting this novel during a pandemic, with no marketing available from my tiny publisher, and covid shutdowns cutting off author interactions with potential readers at festivals and bookshops, The Last Circus on Earth sank like a stone in the ocean of global publishing. As comfort, I promised I’d treat myself to a bottle of the finest Tasmanian whisky (a Nant sherry-cask 40 proof, cheers) when I made enough in royalties. It might take a while before I can afford that first sip.
So, for what it’s worth, Sparrow is already asking to lead a sequel in her own right, though Tash is also saying she’s up for it. Blanco just wants to get to Tartika, be a dad, grow vegetables, do whatever it takes to keep his ‘love interest’ happy, and never have another ‘adventure’ again in his life. If another author fails you in the future, as I have failed you, please remember that they tried not to. They risked a lot and worked hard not to let you down, but in the end, for you, the effort was wasted, and their only hope of attracting readers, star ratings, has suffered the consequences. Be kind to that poor author, eh?