I’ve always been a big proponent of constructive criticism because it’s the only way to improve. How else can you get better at your attempted task if you don’t ask for feedback? Incidentally, my ability to handle feedback is one of the reasons why I was promoted. Guess what I’m saying is, I don’t take it personally if someone wants to offer constructive criticism because, in my experience, it’s always helped me improve.
So when I received a critical review (1 out of 5 stars), I read it eagerly. At first the reviewer offered valid viewpoints (which I’m already planning to take into account), but then they went off on a tangent which still boggles my mind. They complained that I wrote my novel to express my liberal views, that my characters were simply there to check off YA cliches. She had issues with the names, the fact that I have a black gay character, that I have poor people in foster systems… at that point, I started laughing.
I grew up reading romances but I could never relate to the characters. The protagonists were always white, and beautiful, and never really seemed to struggle financially. I read many Black romances as well, but never really any stories about Indian women, or Arab women, or Asian women finding love. So, as a woman of colour, I wanted to write about other WOC and that’s one of the reasons why I wrote Follow You Down.
It’s funny that having a “quirky” name, and friends who are also poor, or gay – maybe even both! – were things this reviewer objected to. Because these are not YA checklist items; they are, simply put, my reality. When you’re a WOC, you probably have friends who are also people of colour. And, believe it or not, some of these people may be gay, or bisexual, or even transgendered. One of my closest friends is a gay Asian male. He’s his own person with his own unique identity who happens to be Asian, and gay and loves playing hockey and transformers (Hi David!).
Many of my friends and I grew up poor or struggling to make ends meet, because we came from immigrant families. A lot of our names are considered “weird” or “quirky” because they reflect our ethnicity, pride in our heritage. Or you could simply have hippy parents who went to a poet and wanted an unusual name for their kid (yes, this is how I ended up with mine, and, yes, brown people can be hippies). Again, just because characters are not named “Tom” or “Mary” or “insert any North American common name” doesn’t mean it’s being done to fulfill a checklist item – it’s simply reality for many of us.
In a way I’m glad I received this review because it reaffirmed why I’m writing what I’m writing. I want to tell stories about women of colour – romances featuring women of colour – because we exist, we’re here, and we have every right to read about ourselves and the realities we live even if it’s in something menial like love stories. Weird names, gay friends, struggling with money matters may be cliche items to some, but it’s very real for me.
I’ll write about my reality as much as I want and there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it – so bitch away!