Tag Archives: dear negative reader

Stuff you don’t know about Oregon unless you lived near/in it

Okay, so I moved to Oregon a week ago, and now I think I can write about it? It’s like this. I have lived nearly half my life within half an hour of Oregon. Unlike Idaho, which I had barely visited before I moved there, this place I have known well and long. I am probably better acquainted with eastern Oregon than your average Portlander, since they rarely go there. (It’s hot, dry, and has dust storms.)

Like most Western states not named California or Texas, Oregon doesn’t feel very noticed by the rest of the country. It is also a very mavericky state that does things its own way (weed, assisted suicide, strong environmental laws, no self-service gas, etc.) and is immune to national peer pressure. Here’s your Cliff’s Notes education on Oregon, if you need it:

The name of the state is pronounced OAR-uh-gun, with the last two syllables very short. It barely differs from the pronunciation of ‘organ.’ It is not pronounced ARE-ee-GONE. Some may not understand what the big deal is. Imagine that half the news and sports announcers said kuh-LEE-for-NEE-ah, or tex-ASS, or NEBB-ruh-skuh, or flo-REE-duh, or o-HEE-o.

No, you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon. This does not make it that much more expensive, and it does means that fueling station choices are influenced in part by actual service. Unfortunately, this means that in Oregon, if your gas cap is not attached, you have to check to make sure the employee put it back on. Laugh if you will at the impossibility of this, but I have a pickup truck, so I can set mine in the bed while I pump gas in Washington. I can only lose my gas cap in Oregon (or New Jersey, were I to go there).

Yes, Oregon has a high state income tax but no state sales tax. The financial mind may immediately wonder how any business can survive on the Washington side of the border. In the first place, in the case of major stuff like vehicle purchases, Washington and Idaho have ways of making sure you pay their own sales tax to license the car in the state. I assume Nevada and California do as well, if it applies (not sure about tax in Nevada). In the second, Oregon residents don’t have to pay at least Washington sales tax, which is a constant factor along the border. In Kennewick, it was normal for checkers to ask if I were a Washington or Oregon resident (and yes, you need ID). So yeah, I’d say that appliance places in Vancouver are likely hard put to compete with those in Portland. Grocery prices, probably not, especially since Washington doesn’t charge sales tax on groceries.

Speaking of Vancouver, to most people that brings to mind British Columbia. In Portland, it does not, for Vancouver is the primary suburb on the Washington side. We would have chosen to live there, but paying both states’ tax would just suck rocks, and my wife has brick-and-mortar employment in Oregon (thus she must pay Oregon income tax no matter where she resides). Ah, but wouldn’t we just do all our shopping in Oregon? We would only have to try crossing the bridge one time for a typical grocery run, and we’d be over it. If one works in Oregon, it makes sense to live in Oregon.

As with Washington and Seattle, Oregon suffers from the national confusion with Portland. “Oh, you’re from ARE-ee-GONE! The land of rain, people to the political left of Stalin, and fair trade cruelty-free organic pagan eco-hipster cyclists!” “Not quite. I’m from Pendleton. I was on my high school rodeo team, and whenever we got rain, I thanked Christ. I never cared what all the fruit loops in Portland thought. To me, a bike meant dirt biking out in the desert.” Central and northeastern Oregon are dry places with more cowboys than hipsters.

Almost no one even lives in southeastern Oregon. Malheur County is about 10K square miles, roughly fifty miles wide by two hundred high, and only has about 30,000 people. And if it weren’t for one city of note (Ontario, which is only an hour from Boise), it would only have about 20,000. Comparison: New Hampshire is smaller, yet has 1.3 million people (almost as many as all of Idaho), and isn’t even very densely populated as Northeastern states go. Dry lake salt pans are not rare in southeastern Oregon. It’s desolate.

Oregon has an ugly history of sundown town racism that hasn’t fully faded. When the second Ku Klux Klan was operating (as much nativist and anti-Catholic as anti-black, 1915-1925), Oregon was one of its strongest states. The joke of Lake Oswego as ‘Lake Nonegro’ has not disappeared. As major US cities go, Portland is one of the whitest.

Yes, Oregon did attempt to dispose of a beached whale carcass by blowing it up. They won’t try that again.

Speaking of the Oregon coast, do not expect development to destroy it any time soon. Nearly the whole thing is an Oregon state park (more precisely, a long string of Oregon state parks). Plus, “Hi, I’m a SoCal real estate developer, and I would like to appropriate some of your public beach frontage for a very posh resort that would attract lots of very rich people!” is right down there with “Recycling sucks!” as a lousy introductory line with Oregonians.

I’ve only seen one episode of Portlandia, and I guess Fred Armisen actually makes his home in the Pearl District, but I don’t think it’s terribly far off base about Portland. The issue is more that not all Oregon is Portland. As long as that’s understood, the folks in Burns and Madras won’t have to explain that their places don’t resemble Fred’s Portlandia.

Is it true that Oregonians hate Californians? Well, that depends upon two things: which Oregonian you’re asking, and to which Californians you refer. If the variables are ‘a fairly average Oregonian’ and ‘someone who embodies every over-the-top LA stereotype,’ answer’s probably close to yes. However, thinking people realize that California is not LA, any more than Oregon is Portland, and that living examples of stereotypes are not the norm. If it were, there would be prison terms here for failure to recycle, right? Yet there are not. (The fine for littering, however, is quite justly enormous. In Oregon, the fine for driving over 100 mph is $1000. Maximum littering fine is $6250. Don’t toss that cigarette butt.) Is it true that California tags are a ticket magnet for police in Oregon? Yes, but all license plates are ticket magnets in Oregon, including those with the familiar covered wagon. When California wants water from the Columbia, or when a Californian family moves into a neighborhood and starts behaving like the stereotype, yeah, at those times, it’s pretty grumpy. However, the former is impractical due to determined public opposition, and the latter is as rare as any other embodied stereotype, including that of the wafer-thin-pizza-eating, bushy-armpitted, all-organic Oregon hippie mom lecturing everyone else about their life choices. Like the plastic-smile Angeleña negatively comparing everything to LA during her daily mani-pedi, they exist, but they aren’t your average Oregonian.

I suspect that locals borrowed “Keep Portland Weird” from Austin, TX, just as it’s well established that Seagulls fans decided they were “The 12th Man” approximately fifty years after Texas A&M gave that title reality. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but the originators should be respected.

College football fans may be mystified at the rise of the Oregon Ducks as a national power. With the full disclosure of the fact that they are my team’s most loathed rival, the one team I would not root for even to beat the University of Pyongyang, here’s the reality. First, that rise does owe a great deal to palatial facilities and lavish funding by Phil Knight, owner of Nike and a Duck alum, who basically continues to throw money at the situation until it results in dominance. Well, seems you can buy a better football team. However, much of the credit must also go to skilled coaching, including recruitment (aided by the gaudy uniforms and impressive facilities) of the sorts of athletes who will excel in the coaches’ system. It is taking time for teams to figure out the few weaknesses in the Oregon system, but you can be certain that eleven other highly capable Pac-12 coaches work very hard at this, gaining ground each season. In the meantime, Oregon State Beavers fans continue to soldier on, disliking the Ducks nearly as much as I do, just glad to be away from a twenty-year era of enormous mediocrity. When I was in college, the Beavs’ records looked like binary notation: 0-10, 1-10, 0-11, etc. Meanwhile, the Washington/Oregon rivalry remains one of the most personal and hateful in the land, which will probably impact my life at some point–especially because my guys have lost ten or eleven straight, and in most cases, it’s because we were not as a good a team and did not play/coach as well. I have to admit it, which is not the same as having to like it.

When you see quotes from a guy named Osho–an Indian-looking guru sort with a heavy beard–just remember that his minions launched biological warfare terror attacks within the United States. We who lived near northern Oregon back in the 1980s remember him as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. His followers took over Antelope, Oregon, a town in south Wasco County. It was a small enough town that eighty new voters could automatically win any municipal election. They then tried to take over the county, including homebrew salmonella attacks at restaurant salad bars. Why do that? To reduce the number of people physically capable of going out to vote against the Rajneeshy candidates (children, this was when voting occurred by going to a polling place, unless you voted absentee). For the same reason, they shipped in many homeless people in order to register them to vote. It was all a blatant takeover tactic.

If he’d done it in the East, it’d be remembered alongside Tim McVeigh’s deeds, but it happened in Oregon, so it may have lasted one news cycle in the major media markets before some important actor was diagnosed with a pimple on his butt, or it rained hard in Manhattan, or a white American female went missing abroad, or something else Far More Important occurred. In any case, when Rajneesh’s minions got in trouble and their colony of a couple thousand people collapsed, the government moved to deport him. On the way out, he called the United States “a wicked country.” Bub, I’m not sure someone whose fan club uses biological terrorism on his watch is in any position to call my country anything but merciful for not hanging you.

Anyway, when henceforth you see quotes from Osho, they may sound very wise on their face, but some of us take it as the moral equivalent of quoting Robert Mathews. At the very least, Rajneesh slept at the wheel of his own movement while some truly evil minions harmed folks I worked with and respected, and I will not sit in silence while people use his new name and rehab his legacy (he has been dead since 1990) as if he were admirable and noble. To me, on balance, he is not. The Rolls-Royces were excrescent, but they didn’t fill up every hospital in The Dalles, Hood River, and small surrounding regions with people guilty only of taking the family out for dinner. Salmonella did.

====

For those who read this far, I want to explain something about how I operate the blog. This is my professional presentation. Since I’m an editor and writer, that can be about anything as long as I don’t embarrass myself.

Posting has been sparse in the last couple of months, well off my normal schedule of 1-2 posts per week. There’s a reason for that. I have begun numerous posts which I never completed because they were too emotional for the blog. “Too emotional” here means: subjects about which I am sensitive or emotional, and do not wish to bare my soul for potential public heckling during a difficult time. I embrace the right of the public to heckle (with some modicum of civility) anything I might post, and the only way to handle that is not to post anything I wouldn’t want heckled. So I start writing as catharsis, realize halfway through that this one will probably never see the green light, and at least get the benefit of journaling out frustration/grief/euphoria/rage/whatever.

Some were also borderline libelous, too likely to provoke political discussion which I’d then have to shut down, or simply not well enough reasoned. Some readers might say: “Awwwww! But that’s you being you! That’s what we come to read!” I understand. However, this is not the suitable place for such things. It may seem strange to some, but this is the office. I need rules for myself at the office. Think of this as a company newsletter in a way, with me as the company. While it’s okay for the firm to nail its ideological colors to the mast to a degree, it should do so judiciously.

So yeah, I’ve been writing, just not often posting, because the one thing every writer should realize is the truth of the old Russian proverb: “What is written with the pen cannot be erased with an ax.” Many a career has been altered, rarely for the better, when a writer’s need to speak his or her mind overcame his or her good sense long enough to stab the ‘Publish’ button. (q.v. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Dear Negative Reader.) I want to keep the blog as informative, entertaining, and uplifting as I can, with a primary focus on the craft of writing and editing, and the secondary focus on thoughtful social comment. You already get enough of my personal opinions, leaking through here and there, but this cannot be the place where I drop the professional posture. Some matters are simply too personal to belong here.

Every public post in any medium is voluntary, after all. And if it’s ill-advised, the poster can expect reminders that no one compelled him or her at gunpoint to make the post public. That would be my standard advice to any writer maintaining a blog.

If I fail to heed it myself, I am a great fool.

How writing can warp your perspective on life

It is so. It can. Take that from someone who spends a lot of time in the locker room with authors, and hears what they say when the public is not listening.

The locker room analogy isn’t accidental. Please consider this: being an author is much like being a professional or collegiate athlete. For the author, hours, days, months, years go into a public performance: a book, which will tend to cause people to read and react.

The read might take a few hours to a few days of the reader’s time, then she’s on to the next book. If the reader feels compelled to comment, she does. She might be knowledgeable; she might not. She might be fair; she might not. She might have understood what the author was trying to do; she might not have. But she did the equivalent of buying her ticket. She gets a seat in the stadium, from which she can watch the game. As long as she doesn’t make death threats or throw bottles or urinate in the aisle, she can react as she wishes. She can yell “you’re a bum!” She can stomp her feet, clap, gush approval, boo her lungs out. She can sit there and eat her nachos in silence. Fairness, kindness, patience are all choices she can make or not, without penalty. She’s the reader, the audience, the customer.

So imagine the author as a college football tailback. In order to perform for a total of thirty minutes before the public, 12-14 times in a year, she worked nearly every day for nine months. She lifted weights until she sagged in exhaustion. She ran sprints, miles, agility drills. Her coach tried to teach her techniques, and she tried to learn them. Some she resisted, some she embraced, and some she didn’t understand worth a damn. She studied thick playbooks with pages of diagrams that looked like a drunk, amnesiac tic tac toe game covered in cold cooked spaghetti. She watched endless hours of game film, with a high concentration on her own past errors. If she invested four hours per day for nine months, we might guess that she strained, sweated, grunted, cursed, wept, self-criticized, self-pushed, self-doubted, for something like a thousand hours of her life. That was in addition to the basics of normal life, for which she was also responsible. Whether she felt like it or not, she had to keep at it. And that’s just the summary of the off-season; in season, it might be more. This enabled her to compete with others (who did everything she did) for the right to compete against others (most of whom worked just as hard, some harder) for, at most, thirty minutes 12-14 times a year, with an audience of thousands or millions.

If she gets hit by three Neanderthals and fumbles inside her own 20-yardline, that one bit of her life might be all that millions of people remember of her thirty minutes of performance that day, into which a thousand hours of preparation poured. And if she makes one great, prescient cut and juke that busts loose a seventy-yard run, that will be the snapshot of her life the audience will retain.

And if, when booed or insufficiently applauded, she feels the urge to stand before the public and yell: “You goddamn idiots! You don’t even know what play we had on! I didn’t call that play! I had only an instant to react! The linebacker made a superhuman effort! On top of it, I was still a little rung up from the defensive tackles that landed on me forty seconds ago! Someone else blew an assignment! You don’t even know what the hell’s going on out here, or what it took me to be here and perform for you! All of y’all can go to hell!” can we blame her?

We can and we will, unfair though it is to her. Not for having the feelings, but for doing the one thing capable of making her situation worse. The performer has no say in the composition of the public, and that’s one reason not everyone is cut out to perform. The public is also the customer. The customer isn’t always right; for the most part, the customer is wrong. Unfortunately, the customer nearly always gets away with being wrong, and it’s bad form to come out and prove her wrong.

Welcome to the author’s world: a place where the best way to make a bad situation worse is to speak your mind.

Case in point: Ayelet (free pronunciation help: ah-YELL-ett) Waldman. She is a successful novelist, and this isn’t her first controversy, but it’s a lulu. If you want to read the short version with examples, go here. We should realize that this isn’t “why doesn’t anyone buy my book.” This is “how could my already successful book be left off this very select, prestigious list?” Going back to the athlete analogy, this isn’t “why am I still stuck covering kickoffs and playing target on the scout team.” This is “how can I not be first team All-Conference?”

And in that situation, Waldman did the one thing that could creatively make an unsatisfactory situation worse for herself. She took to the media to call out the people who make up the All-Novelist team for not making her a first-team pick. This isn’t going to get her what she wants. Once she did that, even the knowledgeable minority–those who were prone to factor in the thousand hours of suffering and stress that created her book–shook their heads. Tsk, tsk. Shouldn’t have done it, Ms. Waldman. And that’s those who know. The vast majority, who do not, react even less to her advantage.

Because when an author has a public tantrum, it ceases to be about her work, and becomes about the tantrum.

That’s why you never do that. Never respond to a negative review. Especially never throw a hissy fit because you are left off a high-profile list. Keep that locker-room talk in the locker room, where those around you understand. Kick a locker. Throw your gear. If you must, avoid the media. But don’t lose it in public.

The public will crucify you and desecrate your corpse. And then they will be disrespectful, and you’ll become a meme, like Laurell K. Hamilton’s infamous Dear Negative Reader blog post.

Should authors respond to negative reviews?

In my opinion, the answer is a universal and thundrous ‘never!’ Don’t apologize because they say they wasted their money, don’t gripe that they weren’t fair, don’t bitch that they were mean. Don’t do anything. Say nothing. Shut up. I think it’s fine to respond to an exceptionally positive review, or respond to a question, but when they are critical, say not one word. You cannot win. You can only look worse.

You will look hypersensitive, thus showing other detractors that your goat is available for the getting. You will look like your work hasn’t been very successful, because you feel a negative review is impacting you. You will look petty, because you are bickering. And if you’re not careful, you may look stupid, because you fail to get the point everyone else got.

While new authors are usually the most sensitive about reviews, some damned famous ones can get very worked up about an adverse review. One may remember Laurell K. Hamilton finally breaking down and venting Dear Negative Reader, which came to define a trope. She’s never heard the end of that piece, because it conveyed to the public where she was sensitive.

The reasons not to crab back at critical reviews divide into two groups:

Professional:

  • Maybe they were actually being merciful, and you’ll convince them to stop that and say what they really thought.
  • You look petty and small-time, with so little real work to do that you have time to argue with reviewers.
  • Your book must not be selling very well if you’re afraid of a bad review.

Personal:

  • It shows the weak spot in your armor of public presence.
  • It then gives more people a good reason to want to find that weak spot and use it to torment you.
  • It opens you up to a debate you cannot win even if you’re right, stepping onto a level playing field where people won’t hesitate to gang up on you.

As you might guess, this came up due to an author’s mistake. A little over seven years ago, I wrote the following review of Joann Kuzma Deveny’s 99 Ways to Make a Flight Attendant Fly–Off the Handle: A Guide for the Novice or Oblivious Air Traveler.

Before I paid $13 for this I should have looked at the length. My mistake. There isn’t a whole heck of a lot of content here compared to other recent flight attendant books out there, and that content can be boiled down to a few salient points of guidance for travelers:

1) Have no emotions except gratitude to your sainted flight attendants for choosing to serve you. Strive for your own form of sainthood, which amounts to never having needs or feelings except the foregoing.

2) You are not here to get from point A to point B. You are here to monitor your every action to improve the flight attendants’ convenience. Now you know.

3) Flight attendants basically do not like you, so watch it, lest you receive the Dreaded Eye Roll and the Stony Ignore.

There. I saved you $13. Too bad the author doesn’t give us any real reason to want to make her life easier, as she doesn’t seem to like us much to begin with. Well, I didn’t like her co-workers much either to begin with, based on experience, but I’ve always tried to keep an open mind. I still will, but no thanks to Deveny.

That’s where the book fails those it purports to help: it fails to create any sense of community between flight attendant and passenger. Both are victims: the victims of airline deregulation, cramped planes, crappy food and miserable overall conditions. The two most aggrieved groups involved in the airline industry are natural allies. A balanced book that promoted improved relations between the two would be a real service. Instead, into the hands of already angry and frustrated passengers is dropped a treatise on how to spread that annoyance around to the nearest targets–with no incentive offered as to why they should not. So I’ll pick up some slack here.

Fellow fliers, please try and treat your flight crew with courteous respect, for everyone’s benefit, in spite of the fact that they rate you slightly above a used diaper. In so doing, you’ll rise above the mean-spirited ranting that fills this book. Focus your anger where it is deserved: the airline industry executives and the immense bonuses they get, all because flight attendants and passengers are the ones jointly taking a hosing.

As for me, I want to fly even less now than I did before I read it. I wonder if it’s occurred to the author that this sentiment isn’t really going to promote greater job security in her field.

As cold as that seems, the truth was colder. If I’d meant to hurt her, I’d have estimated the word count, to show people how little actual content they were buying. I’d have pointed out how many copies were for sale for $0.01 on the secondary market. I’d have given her one star (Amazon’s lowest rating) instead of two. I’d have used much harsher verbiage. It needed a critical review, but I had no reason to want to make sure it stung. Had I lacked all empathy for flight attendants, I wouldn’t have pleaded with the public to treat them decently in spite of the book.

Today, a mere seven years later, she commented on the review to complain:

Please look further to 99 Ways… eleven 4 & 5 star reviews. The overall rating is 4 out of 5, with only 2 people, with no sense of humor, in the minority. (2 to 11)

She left a similar gripe on the other critical review today. Here’s what’s comical there: she’d left a similar gripe on that one two years ago. Evidently she didn’t even read her own comment. The best argument she could come up with was, in digested form: ‘ignore this humorless minority opinion, other people love it.’

Salient point: before she griped, she looked okay. She had a couple of negative reviews, a much greater number of positive ones, and the reader was left to judge who to believe–the majority or the minority. (As I see it, I did my part. If they still want to buy it, it’s not my money, so I am not invested and don’t care.) Now she looks bad. Now every reader knows that she will be easily stung. If some real jerk wants to, he or she can use that to make the author’s life very unhappy. Not the sort of thing I (or any person with a life) would do, but the Internet has every kind of person, including obsessive psychotic bullies.

Will I do as I told her, and go back to re-read and edit the review so as to do a more thorough job of shooting the book full of holes? Nah, I doubt it. I was mainly warning her what a dumb thing she’d done. I’m not as sensitive about such things. She doesn’t like my review, well, fine; if I had cobbled together a minimal amount of mediocre content into a $13 book, and someone called me on it, that’s not what I’d want to hear either because that speaks to the book being a bad value. If it really is a bad value, of course that’s the last thing she wants people to grasp, because they will buy one of the 33 used copies available from $0.01 (at which price point it’s an okay value). I responded mainly out of kindness, to teach her a bit of a lesson, which she really does not deserve of me.

Then that thought morphed, and I realized that the entire subject might make an interesting blog entry. There is a perspective from the author’s side, but the great majority of talking about writing is done purely from a reader’s perspective; maybe readers are interested in the author’s side. One of the first things an author needs is to learn how to behave. If Deveny now pulls up this post on search, and leaves a snide comment, that’ll be proof she didn’t get what I was trying to convey to her, but I won’t stop her from compounding the mistake. Nor will I be angry. This is writing for public consumption, and not everyone will like or value it, and some of them will say so. I’ll deal with it and move on.

Dear every reader

It always surprises me when I read something by a writer angry with his or her readership. There’s been some buzz about Laurell K. Hamilton’s post ‘Dear Negative Reader,’ which she put up several years back. It has become a trope. Thus, I address this post not to negative readers (I know I have some, based on Amazon reviews), and not to positive readers, but to all readers, because I value and respect you all.

(Digression: how many times have you heard author types use the term ‘trope’ and you still can’t figure out what it means? You’ve looked it up three times and the definitions still don’t make sense? (Guess who else did that.) Because I believe in liking my reader, in no wise do I plan to fail you. A trope is a figure of speech, essentially, such as a common phrase that has become a metaphor in its own right–something not necessarily taken literally. The idea is that you are familiar with it, it means something to you.  For example, talking about women and society, when we refer to the Madonna/whore trope, the meaning is clear: it speaks of the mentality that admits of only two roles for a woman, the virgin–>virtuous matron or the promiscuous tramp. Most of you probably agree with me that this trope is a plague, but you understand it.  That’s why it’s a trope.)

Thus, when I heard of the trope, I looked up Hamilton’s post and asked myself what wasn’t right with it. She isn’t the first author to write an annoyed letter to her readership. The fact that she wrote it tells us she was annoyed, and she annoyed her public in turn. There’s some irony in the fact that many of Hamilton’s characters seem to dislike one another, but seem to need each other. The readers have a point: Hamilton has taken the Anita Blake vampire series to a strange place, and they lament this. Hamilton also has a reasonable point: “if you don’t like it, stop reading. My sales figures tell me someone does.” Of course, not all reasonable points ought to be made. Suppose you have a control freak boss. You catch him in a complete contradiction where he cannot admit error. His hubris will permit no reaction except to sit there in humiliated rage, while plotting to get you for it. I hope it makes you feel better that you got to wear the mantle of rightness and score a point, because he’s about to make you regret it. Maybe it would have been smarter to shut up. Tact is knowing when to shut up.

Tact is good for public figures.

I understand Hamilton finally reaching the point where she cut loose about it. I do not understand the way she did it. Everyone who says they no longer like the series, almost surely once did. I have never walked a literary mile in Hamilton’s heels; I have no way to know what it feels like to write books that are guaranteed sales, nor to read screenfuls of vituperation against those books. But I’m pretty sure that it’s much better to have a lot of happy readers and some haters than to lack a readership. If no one is slamming your book, it’s because no one cares. Slamming the book is buzz. Buzz helps put your book on the endcap. The endcap is the only place you make any money working with New York’s big houses.

All that said, there’s a basic problem with the mentality. I think that how writers feel about their readership truly affects the quality and value of how they write. I know it’s true of me here on the blog. If you’re annoyed at your readers (those would also be your customers and free advertisers, just to put this in perspective), then your writing may show it. Perhaps you won’t be able to notice; they may not spot it outright, but they will feel it. Ask any women about guys who gave them a creepy feeling; couldn’t place why, couldn’t say how, just something about the guys made them want to take a shower.

The remedy is for the writer to like his or her readership.

You can tend to disagree with your readers and still like them. I worked on a Bible book. We all know I’m not a Christian, and mostly we all know how strong are my feelings about some of the church/state separation issues in US society today. Did that mean I was writing for readers I didn’t like? Quite the contrary. The reader comes to such a book seeking to learn, to grow, to expand understanding. I respect those goals no matter what the subject is. He or she may come bearing a friendly challenge: “I already know a lot about this. What can you tell me that will be new and fresh?” I like that challenge. If I didn’t, I’d have had no business writing about it. Part of liking your reader is to presume the positive, which is fair; by taking time to read your material, the reader may be said to have done the writer that courtesy. The writer owes its return.

I didn’t presume that my readers would loathe me if they knew about my own religious beliefs. I presumed they, as literate people seeking to learn by reading, might find a far kinder interpretation (pick one of many). They and I might have been different, but what united us was a love of reading and a wish that writing be well researched and competently executed.

Were I to give aspiring writers any guidance, it would first be three words: like your reader.