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November 14th, 2008

7:24 AM

The trauma fiction


Since deciding to take up reading and reviewing of self-published and small press books, I've discovered a whole new "genre" of sorts: books written by people who want to spread a message of love and hope throughout the world, with the stories usually about how these authors courageously overcoming either a grave disease, a depressing life situation, or abuse. I've learned early never to touch these books.

Writing is a good form of therapy, I think we all know that. It can be an effective way to exorcise one's inner demons. But just like how sometimes letters written to an ex are best burned after they are written, these "books" are usually best left in the drawer.

There are some exceptions, of course. A recent example would be Chuck Myer's Melanoma Melodrama, a well-written and humorous, if heartbreaking, account of the author's uphill struggle with skin cancer. But most of these books are really horribly written, sometimes barely readable.

It is like beating a puppy senseless when I point this out to them because many of these authors write because they want validation. They want people to acknowledge that these authors' books have given them Hope and Inspiration. They want people to validate their beliefs and reassure them that they are indeed courageous to have undergone what they had. They want to inspire people and be praised for surviving what they had undergone. In other words, they don't want an honest opinion, they want reassurances that they have done something right in their lives. For these authors, any remotely negative opinion of their book isn't merely an opinion, it's a direct personal attack on their belief system and boy, they can be relentless in telling me that I am so, so wrong.

I feel that those books aren't meant to be reviewed. In fact, they aren't even meant to be published, not unless these authors have fully moved on from their ordeals and the book has been vetted, edited, or in some case, ghostwritten by professionals. But most of the self-published ones are written when the authors are still in an emotionally vulnerable stage in their lives, and therefore, they are not ready to receive any kind of criticism about their book. Those books aren't even meant to be published, but you know how things are. Vanity publishers find a gold mine in these authors. These are the people who will pay money to get their Stories of Hope out and they will view these publishers in the same way that some particularly overzealous born-again view Jesus, seeing these publishers as a savior rather than merely a publisher. These authors also tend to be ignorant about how real publishing works.

And, unfortunately, they also tend to have poor grasp of rudimentary writing techniques, with some of them often incorporating ill-researched advice or tips that could be dangerous if taken up by unwitting folks. I've come across books by "former" gay people who have found Christianity and yikes, some of the advice on "regaining" one's heterosexuality in those books make me cringe. I've read tips on "curing" cancer that are either based on unfounded theories or even dangerous assumptions. But it is impossible to point this out without having to deal with either a mortally outraged author shrieking that you are the Antichrist or - this is the worst because it makes me feel really low - an anguished author sobbing pitifully because she feels that I have personally attacked her when she is already feeling low enough as it is.

Yes, I do feel low if I have to tell someone who has written a book on how she survived, say, an abusive husband from hell that her book is unreadable. For these authors, writing is therapy and having the book "published", either by PublishAmerica or a vanity publisher (same thing, really), is a validation of what they have gone through. This is why I feel that it is best to leave these authors alone and let them go about healing in their own way.

On a different note, it's scary how much I am enjoying David Archuleta's new CD.

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