At a recent family-in-law gathering, one guest (noticing that our anniversary was a few days away) asked how Matt and I met. I explained that I was working for a newspaper as a theater critic reviewing a musical and Matt sat next to me. The usual questions followed: do you remember the name of the show (“Crazy For You”), did you like it (**** out of *****), etc.
She then asked me if I had ever written a bad (i.e. negative) review. I told her I had, but even for the worst shows I always tried to include at least one good thing from the production. It might be a specific performance, the production design (which, honestly, can make or break a show), or a moment in a scene. I never wanted my readers to say, “He hates it, we won’t go.” I wanted them to say, “Hey, he says this one actor was really good. Let’s go check it out.” I never found pleasure in writing a negative review; it always pained me. I had been active in theater for many years prior and I knew first hand how hard people work to put on a show. Productions might fail for a variety of reasons, but I doubt passion is ever one of them.
Now, twenty years since I stopped reviewing theater, the tables have been turned.
Five years ago I began writing novels with the goal of writing them and getting them published. Anything that happened after that was just icing on the cake -- except in the case of negative reviews. Most of the reviews for my thirteen books have ranged from average to excellent. Only on a few occasions have I gotten a negative review -- a couple of them pointedly mean. I try really hard not to let the negative reviews bother me, but they do.
Each time it happens, I think back to my years working for different newspapers and the various types of subjects (theater, books, social events, dance and opera) that I reviewed and the fact that I always tried to be nice. I might not have always succeeded, but at least I was never intentionally mean.