He says tomato, she says “you’re not funny, stop writing!”

I’m engaging in some undeniably obsessive behavior as part of my 367-step marketing campaign/ book release party. Most of this is as confidential as anything can be in this day and age of the government poking its giant nose into everybody’s business. (That’s meant to be funny and I think it is right up until the moment Obama steals some of these plans for the release of what I can only assume would be his fifth memoir. At which point, the Secret Service is going to have to step up their game, ’cause I’ve been working nonstop on these plans for quite some time and I now consider them intellectual property.At this point, you should be questioning my sanity. By the end of this post I intend to thoroughly convince you that if I did have any hope of sanity, writing and publishing a book destroyed it. And I’m the better for it.)

Step 293 of the 367-step process involves taking blank prayer flags and using transparency sheets to quote prints 800px-Blue_sky_prayer_flags_TIBETfrom the book onto individual flags, which will then be used to decorate the garden for my book release party. In order to select the quotes I reread Scourge of the Righteous Haddock–for what felt like the fiftieth time–and typed out what I thought were the funniest or most poignant passages. Basically, I was looking for bite-sized snippets that would immediately grab a potential reader’s attention. Then, I surrendered my nine pages of quotes to six people: Colin Rigley (boyfriend, writer, editor, cat wrangler, photographer, cook), Matt Fountain (news editor), Rhys Heyden (staff writer), Tadhg Morrison (office manager), Anna Weltner (arts editor), Maeva Considine (calendar editor), and Aileen Manley (Maeva’s long-suffering girlfriend). They were instructed to score each quote 1-5, 5 indicating the quotes were highly effective in sparking their interest in reading the book and 1 indicating they have bad taste in literature … or, that the quote was not as effective.

Yes, the people in my life are being remarkably patient with me right now. They’ll probably be as relieved as I am when this book is finally out of my hands and I’m not inundating them with demands for songs and maps and opinions about tiny details of book release parties. It took a few days, but they all turned in their score sheets. That’s when I realized that my friends and colleagues are many things: talented, at times annoying, weird, did I mention talented? Because they truly are, and that’s why I value their opinions so highly. Well, the talent and the fact that most of them are stuck with me eight hours a day anyhow so I might as well corner them and demand that they read nine pages of quotes from my book apiece.

But for all their strengths, they could not agree on anything. The final tally sheet looks as though it might have been numbered by monkeys with criteria and tastes so dissimilar they don’t even speak the same dialect. Lest you doubt me, or suspect I’m exaggerating, here are some of the scores:

4 3 3 3 2 5 5

3 5 3 3 5 4 4

4 3 3 2 2 5 5

3 5 3 2 3 5 3

2 4 3 2 4 2 3

4 3 5 3 4 2 2

5 5 5 3 3 3 3

4 5 3 3 4 5 5

2 5 3 2 3 5 4

I’m not entirely certain what I was expecting, though I did assume there would be some clear front-runners. Instead, I’ve received a very different lesson entirely, and I think it’s a valuable one at this particular juncture: Reading is subjective. There’s a kind of chemistry between a reader and text, and it’s as much based on the reader’s personality and experience as it is on the content of the text. So if I was looking for a perfect quote to sum up the human experience or tickle some collective funny bone, sorry Charlie, there isn’t one. The best of writers have their detractors and the worst of them have their followers. And while I often compare my writers at New Times to delinquent primates, the truth is, when they assigned those wildly varying scores they were behaving like humans. (Of course, Maeva got confused and wrote 1 as her high scores and 5 as her low scores, so I think the primate reference is a fair one, though we cleared it all up in the end.)

Hopefully, I won’t have forgotten this lesson by the time real people–not the ones I hassle and harangue–are reading my book. Some people will not like it. And some will. If I’m lucky and I’ve done my job properly, a special few will love it even. And though the 2s, 3s, and 4s are an important aspect of learning and improving, I think it’s the rare 5 I’ll choose to cherish and remember. Because even if it’s not unanimous, I worked damn hard for that 5.



  1. I love everything about this post. And there are no 1s!

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