Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Tomahawk Man

I haven't had too much success looking for a steady job recently (which doesn't seem so bad as long as I listen to the new Muppets' song "Life's a Happy Song" on repeat). With my background, I've been looking at freelance writing gigs, preferably in lit (my background) or politics (my obsession).

But I am currently freelancing for Kirkus, writing reviews for Kirkus Indie, the self-published, pay-for-review section. And by "currently freelancing," I mean I just read my first book and wrote my first review. I won't talk about the book in any specifics yet (or maybe ever--I need to reread my contract). But here's the general situation: it was a fine try, but not a great book.

When I started to read the book, the music in the back of my head was mostly the sound of razors sharpening. Oh, how I'd flay this bool, how I'd expose it's faults, how the misfit skeleton would be embalmed in my review to teach others what not to do.

But it's hard to keep up the joy of filleting someone else's hard work and dream. Could I be writing the review that will crush this person's dream? Could I ever avoid imagining this person's eyes losing their hopeful light?

(Maybe this is a time for a reality check: this person self-published a book, so their dream has been stepped on and manhandled already. A little more abuse probably won't kill the dream.)

All of this makes me wonder about my literary idol--the deceiving, lying, mischievous, vicious, acid-tongued Edgar Allan Poe. Poe made some money from his stories and poems, but his main job was as a reviewer. And he became somewhat famous for his hatchet jobs.

They called him the Tomahawk Man.

(Picture yanked from the excellent E. A. Poe Society.)

Did he ever hesitate while formulating his venom? Did his acid ever drip on his hands as he wrote? Or did he see himself as a doctor, caustically burning away the dangerous growths of bad literature? Was that how he got through the day, by seeing his violence against others as ultimately recuperative, healthful?

That's it! I'm not a butcher of dreams--I'm a surgeon... of dreams.


  1. I know someone who got a soul crushing review from Kirkus pay for review. Was it accurate? I will keep my opinions to myself (and in saying that, I really haven't).
    In the case of your review it sounds like surgery is the most constructive method. You can hack it apart, but then it isn't like a publishing company has invested in this book and therefore individuals and public libraries (plug) may spend their budget on it. If that was the case, hack away. Also, the author could take away something positive from the criticisms you make. He is paying for a review not abuse, unless abuse is called for.

  2. The funny thing is, despite his reputation, Poe didn't see himself as an overly negative or caustic reviewer at all, and got quite offended whenever anyone suggested that was the case!

  3. Sesheta, I think you're right--if this person paid me directly to act as an editor, I would have constructive comments; and there's no reason why I can't keep that in mind when writing to third parties.

    Undine, I'm sure Poe could see himself in many ways, but I'm not prepared to take Poe's side in any argument--he's too mischievous and deceptive for me to take his word. Certainly Poe gave a lot of praise at times; for instance--and totally at random--there's his line on Fouque's Undine: "For the hand of the master is visible in every line of his beautiful fable." Can't get much more positive than that.

    And how do you feel when people spell his name as "Edgar Allen Poe"? For some reason, that always gets my blood up. As usual, I blame Griswold.