3.24.2015

SHIRLEY JEAN MEETS HEY NATALIE JEAN


"To my Shirley Jean from your Natalie Jean--
I am dedicating this book to you, Granny Goose,
but only if you hold your mouth right."
--Tillie

My mother sent me this photo over the weekend. It was kind of a moment for me. 

My grandpa still shoulders most of the responsibility of caring for my grandmother through her advanced stage of Alzheimer's. It's a lot of work, and it takes a lot out of him, so from time to time his kids will step in and host my grandma for a few days. Helping her with her medication, taking her shopping, and soothing her occasional moments of panic, that's the job. This weekend was my mom's weekend. I know it can be especially tiring sometimes, but my grandmother has always been a hilarious piece of work, so I imagine these weekends, while hard, are probably still a total kick in the pants. That Shirley is all class. She knows how to work a room. She also knows how to terrorize a poor shoe salesman. The woman shops. By now, her Alzheimer's is to the point where she is no longer able to read a newspaper ad, let alone a book, so even though I'm not sure she understood what exactly she was seeing when my mother gave her a copy of my book, still. The fact that she was able to see it, to hold it in her hands, means more to me than I could ever say. It's almost like a bit of beautiful closure on this really lovely journey the two of us have taken together.

When Abrams contacted me to make this book with them, my first thought was, Why???? Are you crazy??? My second thought was, You want it to be about what!? Because while I am highly comfortable writing about all sorts of deep + embarrassing feelings or all of the sillier things I like, I am far, far less comfortable positioning myself as some kind of advice-giver on aaaaanything. Abrams requested a traditional coffee table blog-to-book kind of deal; a lot of photos, all lifestyle advice--such is the market (for a while they wanted recipes? disaster!)--and that really scared me. But hell if I was going to turn this down out of fear! (I did almost turn it down out of fear, like, five times.)

"Shirley's Drapes" is what did it for me. It opened the floodgates. I have a really strong visual memory of the moment it started to come together. I was sitting in my baby sister's bedroom looking out the window over my parent's driveway, trying to describe how to apply false lashes and feeling a little sick to my stomach, when I overheard my mother on the phone. My grandpa had called her because suddenly my grandmother could no longer remember who he was, and he wasn't sure what to do. My mom told me the story of how, just that afternoon, he'd walked with my grandmother to their wall in the laundry full of old photographs and mementos, hoping she'd be able to remember something. And it was there hearing the story, while sitting at the top of the stairs with my mom, the phone lifeless in her hand and her face full of emotion, that I realized what I had the opportunity to do. Shirley's legacy. I had the chance to preserve it--to preserve her--and to honor some of the things that she taught me to love + take pride in. I am eternally grateful to Abrams for the chance I've had to write this for her. There may have been a bit of song + dance to make sure as many essays as possible could make it in the final manuscript--Abrams wanted a ham sandwich, light on the infertility; I was prepared to write a Reuben--but you know what? Ham sandwiches are really, really good. Are you kidding me? I love ham sandwiches, especially when toasted with some melted cheese and mustard . . . and anyway, as far as ham sandwiches go, I happen to think my ham sandwich is probably the best one you can get. Definitely Zagat rated at least, let's be honest. ;)

My grandma is such an example of inner strength, love, sacrifice, determination, and substance. She is the fiercest and most nuanced woman I know. A lot of that came through in what could be considered terribly superficial ways. My grandmother led the life of a homemaker. She thought about drapes. We spent a lot of time together antiquing. She had very strong opinions on the way to make a bed (hospital corners), where to buy your clothing (only the finest department stores or she'd make it herself), and what makes up a proper pancake (Krusteaz, with cottage cheese). She was also a force for good, for love and support, and for immeasurable courage. I am so grateful for her legacy.

I am so proud to be her granddaughter.


EDIT FROM THE FUTURE!
so this came up in the comments below (you should read it!) and it made me confused, and then i think i realized my error. so i will make that comment right here too. ready? only more wordy this time.

so, there may be trouble in my lunch meat analogy, in that we are all coming to this lunch meat analogy from differing views on lunch meat.

for instance! keep in mind, not everybody likes a reuben. they're really pretty heavy and greasy, and not to mention hard on the heart burn. also, sauerkraut. tell me, do you really love sauerkraut? i mean i do, but i also like beets. truthfully, i don't even think i could in good conscience say that i prefer a reuben to a ham sandwich, honestly. while we're here, i might say i like a tuna melt best? if i had to choose one sandwich for the rest of my life. 

so what i should have said, clearly, and what i will say in the future any time i again have the opportunity to compare something i have written to some kind of food, is this: that one is like the best, freshest, most expensive toro sashimi from japan, hiro-dreams-of-sushi style, and the other is like a really amazing steak, perfectly cooked, like just nice and pink inside but not cold, cold pink in a steak freaks me out, also involving some kind of specialty truffle oil. 

OR, i could just default to the classic apples / oranges metaphor, because that was all i was really going for, was that it's two different things that should be enjoyed differently and analyzed appropriately, and that i was, and am, pleased as punch, honored out of my gourd, really, to have gotten the chance to write a ham sandwich / freaking expensive raw tuna / orange, and that i would be equally as excited someday in the future to write a really well-steamed plate of broccoli.

also that i am damn proud of my ham sandwich! damn mother effing proud mother effers! 
and i hope i didn't give anybody the impression that i wasn't. 

thank you, as you were. :)

OH! EDIT FROM EVEN FARTHER IN THE FUTURE:
brandon wishes to point out that it's been a house rule for almost a decade now that i'm not allowed to make overly complicated metaphors, and i should really listen to him from now on. point brandon.

42 comments :

  1. this was so sweet, natalie!! so excited to get my hands on a copy of your book :)

    kelseyjbarnes

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  2. Shirley's Drapes was by far the highlight of the book for me. I gasped reading the last paragraph and reread it immediately. I'm so grateful to you for fighting for the essay portions of the book, as they were the best! What an accomplishment, congrats!!!

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  3. Shirley's Drapes made me flat out die. I wasn't expecting it but then my face was soaked and my nose was a leaky mess.
    Even reading this entry made me cry! Thanks for sharing such a beautiful glimpse of a force like Shirley.

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  4. Beautiful tribute. It made me want to get my hands on that lovely book of yours. Grandmas are just the best.

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  5. I'm going to finish it on my flight this afternoon! Can't wait. Although, it might be a bit to much of a tear jerker at times for me to be reading it in public in my current state. Wish me luck.

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  6. Loved the piece on Granny Goose. So glad you have preserved your favorite memories of her in book form, forever, amen. :)

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  7. I loved this essay in your book, it was fantastic. I have to say - I think it's a testament to your writing that in a world where the media thinks we want fluff, the praise for your book is leaning heavy on it's heftier portions. Yes, I bought it to read more of your strong essays and deeper views on life, but I did enjoy the "fluffier" parts of it. I really hope that years from now you're still writing, and that maybe on your second go round you'll get to make us a reuben, so to speak :)

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  8. Yes, your Grandma has always been quite the amazing lady. As a kid spending time at your Grandparent's house with your mom was always a good time. She always cooked breakfast after a sleepover, no cold cereal. She and my dad being in opposite wards in Grants Pass would write Roadshows with fierce competition. She was an imaginative writer and it didn't matter who won the Roadshow. We all enjoyed every one of them. It has been quite a few years since I have seen her & was saddened to hear of her condition. Make her proud in all you do Natalie! Good luck with the new book! I bet your parents are so thrilled. Lisa (White) Barnes

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  10. So sweet and so hard. I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of that Reuben/Ham sandwich at the Hive! Looking forward to meeting you!

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  11. You are such a sweet person. So touching in your outlook. You did your grandmother proud.

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  12. The sweetness. My heart melts.

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  13. I read this post while listening to the new Sufjan Stevens recording about his mom, so I am of course crying. So beautiful. I love your book. Thanks.

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  14. Love this! My grandma (bonnie jean) passed from alzheimers so this resonated with me. Enough to make me want a copy of your book now! Great writing!

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  15. Please know that what I am about to write is not hate, or condemnation or anything that trolls write so they may live(figuritviely, but it does seem that many truly cannot live without leaving their snot, slime and destroying fire comments). Yes, I know. This is the very epitome of a "I don't mean to sound hateful but..." troll comment begining yet I have to say this to assure you of who you are and who you can become in your writing.

    To set blame upon your publisher for having your book not be what you expected and for so many readers to not adore it is wrong.

    Every single published author obviously has a first book. Some of those are "perfect"<--- irony quotes are used on purpose because even the most loudly lauded books have those who don't like them. Some of those books are "disasters." Many published authors will take those "disasters", learn from them, pull out their pen and paper or typewriter or computer and will write again. Some will never return to have a book published.Some of the most "perfect" writers will never write another book. Some write many.

    I am proud of you. Why? Because you desire to write another book that will be published. The thing of it is? Your first book wasn't perfect. It wasn't a disater though. The difficulty that you must try and admit to yourself? It was not your publishers fault.

    Everything your book is and isn't relies solely on you.

    Considering the large range of honestly awful books published, those that make people shake their heads and question what has happened to the publishing industry, is proof of this. Not of all your writing, but the fact that everything you say you wanted your book to be, and what it failed to be, is upon you.

    Publishers publish. They have editors for grammar spelling and punctuation. Publishers can make suggestions on what they think should be included and eliminated; but that's all they are: Suggestions. If you as the writer, of your book, don't want them you say no. You write your book, have the SPaG edited and move on.

    If publishers had "control" of all the content of books, people wouldn't publish. Publishers pick books they want published. They chose your book. But it's failures lie on you.

    Here's another thing: It is not a disaster that this book isn't flying off the shelves as you imagined. That people don't like it. That on many readings you see the failures.

    Take this as a learning experience. Write more. Improve your writing.

    Look to your first book as something you can grow from. Grab hold of the fact that it's your responsibility. Your book. And everything wrong with it, and everything right with it is yours. Hold it close. You may have "fallen" but you will stand up and run...with all the support you deserve.

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    1. i think we may have got our wires crossed somewhere because this is not at all, not in the slightest, what i was trying to say. i don't even really understand how you got there, i'll have to reread this one, yikes. here's the thing: i am hella proud of this book. i would not have put anything out there that i did not feel was exactly what i would want to put out there. and i don't know where you're getting these early sales figures, but we are actually all perfectly pleased with how it's been doing so far, and most of us know not to take those 1-star reviews written by people who hadn't actually bought the book all too seriously. what i was trying to express was how writing it was terrifying, for me, for this precise reason. i have a rather fancy, rather dedicated (shall we call it obsessive?) group of readers who do this exact thing, every time i do anything. they read into my writing and glom onto whatever they can find to prove that i'm who they want me to be. i've made my peace with it--it's such a bizarre hobby and truly says more about others than me, but if anyone is to "blame" for my hard feelings in writing this book that i detailed above, it is those who perpetuate cruelty on the internet for sport. the idea of "blame" needing to be put anywhere though is ridiculous--blame indicates that there is something wrong, and what on earth should i feel is wrong? i am so proud of what i've done, are you kidding? i'm a published author, and i wrote something i really truly believe in! and i expressed this above but i'll say it again--i am so grateful to abrams for taking this chance on me. there is nothing, absolutely no part of my book that i regret or feel disappointed in or wish that i'd done differently. it is what we all wanted it to be. so i appreciate your words of support, i really do. i know it comes from a good place, so thank you. but this was meant to be an essay about how i came to terms with those who would find fault with the "fluff"--the fluff that, like i said, i feel very incredibly proud to have written about because a lot of that "fluff" is my grandmother's legacy, and i am so proud to be a part of that. this was for my grandmother. it will go down in my personal history as one of the most wonderful things i've ever been able to do. i don't blame abrams, i thank my lucky stars in awe that they thought i could do this. and i am so proud that i did.

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    2. Thank you for understanding where I am coming from. My belief that you "blamed"(Behold! Irony quotes) came from this quote: "There may have been a bit of song + dance to make sure as many essays as possible could make it in the final manuscript--Abrams wanted a ham sandwich, light on the infertility; I was prepared to write a Reuben--but you know what? Ham sandwiches are really, really good. Are you kidding me?"

      Which read as if you were prevented from writing your 'ruben' because of Abrams. And that: Hey, I didn't really want this ham sandwich, but they gave it to me, and I'll have to eat it but, I'll enjoy it 'cause it's still a ham sandwich and I know that the 'ruben' awaits

      I am proud of you, as I said before. And now more so, as you say you lay no blame on Abrams.

      So...take that ham sandwich, enjoy the heck outta it and know that the Ruben? It's just waiting for you to chomp down on it, enjoy the dribble on your chin and all the readers that will enjoy it too(some never giving one whit to the juices dribbling down their chin--the messier a ruben the better. No cloth napkins nope, thin paper napkins that get holes in them when ya pick 'em up. Perfect!)

      All my love and pride to ya!

      (For now on it'll. be "reach for the Ruben" instead of "reach for the stars.")


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    3. haha, love this. I think the trouble comes in the value we are assigning to this lunch meat, haha. we must all keep in mind, not everybody likes a Reuben. that's a lot of fat and grease, you know? hard on the heartburn. I don't even think I could i'm good conscience say a Reuben is even any tastier, or better in any way than a really good ham sandwich! maybe m fault lies in choices of lunch meat. maybe i should have said one was the finest toro sashimi fresh from Japan and the other is a really great cut of steak involving truffle oil somehow. cause really. all I meant was that they were different foods, and not necessarily fair to blame one for not being another. apples/oranges? hahaha.
      anyway. I truly DO think both sandwiches taste equally pretty great and carry exact similar worths. not even lying. maybe I should reevaluate my feelings on lunch meat.

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  16. *edit sorry I meant "not just your writing in this book"

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  17. Amazing Natalie. Loved the part about your grandmother. I think the book is perfect. -Hanna Lei

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  18. I died a thousand happy deaths when saw that picture. I'm an avid reader, and also I work with low-functioning geriatrics (read: all the dementia) as a therapist in a psychiatric hospital. The fact that your grandmother got dressed and held a book and smiled all in the same moment? Woman, you are exactly right in saying that this was a huge image for you to cherish. How lucky you are that she is still so functional! She is gorgeous, as are you. Love, Lindsay @ funnyloveblog

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  19. I'm sorry but I'm prone to agree with that novel of a comment above^ & your response, Natalie, just validates some things for me.

    I bought your book, read it, & gave you one star. The fact that you say "most of us know not to take those 1-star reviews written by people who hadn't actually bought the book all too seriously" tells me you just don't really care to receive constructive criticism from your fans, & would rather just shrug it off as "haters/trolls" or people who didn't read the book, when that's not the case.

    If you want to be considered an author, take your fan's reviews/opinions seriously. Every comment that doesn't worship the ground you walk on isn't a hater. Every comment expressing disappointment isn't from someone who wanted a different kind of sandwich. You publicized the book as something much different, but now you're sort of sliding the blame on the publishers for wanting a 'coffee table book'? What? Why didn't you just say that's what it was from the beginning (or once they started cutting out all those big essays...)?

    Some of us have been fans of your blog for years & are just disappointed by the fact you spent so much time "writing a book" that ended up being regurgitated blog posts & basic tips on how to do your eyebrows & buy a bunch of stuff. The fact that you say "oh, it's because you wanted a different kind of sandwich" or "oh, my publishers are responsible for why the book isn't what I said it would be" just validates my decision to be honest with my 1-star review. Some people don't find the book worth 20 bucks. That doesn't mean they're haters/trolls.

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    1. Most writers ignore the one stars because not everyone is going to like what you do.
      That doesn't equate to ignorance, the main thing is that Natalie's book has made her happy. She's as pleased with it as any critical writer can be, which I'm sure most will agree is never totally happy. It's also made a lot of people happy. It's healthy to let go of the one stars. You can't please everyone.
      It's so hard to ignore the 5% that don't like your creation, it's incredibly brave to let it go.
      Sorry you were disappointed, I didn't like Margaret Atwoods Oryx and Crake, I'm not gonna write on her blog and call her silly for ignoring my review, to be honest I would never give a writer a publicly bad review. I think it's bad form. Not everyone can be satisfied with every piece of art.
      It's very self important to think your review means an artist should not be happy with their work.

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    2. I work on a popular TV show,with 1,000's of discussion boards dedicated to it on imdb. The viewers dissect and tear apart the things they like and don't like. When I'm working on said show, I'm on a 90hr week, living in a different country from my husband, barely seeing my daughter. Do I get hurt that I put that much in and people still don't like it? Not at all. Now, I get that its different to writing a book but still, to say that those people shouldn't be able to discuss what they like and don't like is totally ridiculous. At the end of the day it's (the book) a product that people are going to spend their hard earned money on and they have every right to praise/criticise it as they see fit. It's totally different to going onto someones personal blog and saying you don't like what they write. Also, having worked in the arts for a long time, criticism is utterly necessary to the creative process. When I was a university we would visit the theatre so we could all later discuss what we liked/didn't like. Same as having a critique in front of your classmates. You can still be happy with your work, recognise it's faults and also be open to what others think. None of these are mutually exclusive. I haven't read the book so I'm not in a position to say whether I would like it or not, I just wanted to throw my thoughts in on criticism in the arts.

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    3. It's a wonderful achievement to have published a book, but you shouldn't discount literary criticism. The whole point of it is that when you write to communicate certain ideas, you're taking part in a larger dialogue, and inviting others to do so. I've worked in publishing for years, and honestly I've never, ever met an author who felt that their work was so undeserving of any critique. I'm not saying that you need to be Tolstoy, but if you're so sure that there's nothing wrong with your work - you're aiming too low. Challenge yourself! (I always think of the only piece of advice Pina Bausch gave to one of her dancers, "You just have to get crazier.")

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    4. ^^ah I worked with the Pina Bausch company a few years ago. They are truly inspiring!

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  20. I'm so happy you chose to honour your grandma! My grandma was my hero, and I wish she could have know how much before she passed away when I was 17. I can't wait to read your book or eat whatever kinda sandwich it is... in real,non metaphor life, I used to hate sandwiches made with meat, and then a friend of mine ( who did not know I hated meat) made me this polish sausage sandwich, and I ate it because I didn't want him to feel bad, and you know... the thing tasted like love to me, like it was a literal ingredient. So. It's not really about the sandwich, it's what goes into the sandwich. That's what. :) Love yo crazy metaphors.

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  21. I left a two star review of the book on Amazon, but because I purchased it at Barnes and Noble I won't be considered a "verified purchase." Because of that it makes me sad that my review will be discounted as a hate review, because that's not what it was at all. I've read Natalie's blog for years and have been a fan. But I disagree with a commenter above that says we shouldn't leave negative reviews. I think it is possible to leave a negative, yet valid and honest review, which is what I did. Her readers are what got Natalie her book deal, and out of respect to them, should she choose to write another book, I think those one or two star reviews left by fans are her most important critiques that she should be paying attention to. I just think the book was presented to us one way, and when it came out and was not what we were promised, pointing that out was necessary, when our purchases of the book are supporting her. Not every negative comment on the book is from a hater. Just my two cents.

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  22. I love your ongoing metaphors and Brandon's ongoing opposition to them! It's cute. I loved your book. I got it in the mail and read it immediately. I loved it immediately. It was a total ham sandwich. When I ordered it, I was expecting a ham sandwich. After reading your blog for 4+ years, I was ready to order and eat my extra large ham sandwich. It's a sandwich you can eat every day and enjoy, and when I order the first book from my favorite ham sandwich maker, I want it to be similar to what she serves me on the daily. It was light-hearted with some bites that were heavy on the mustard. YUM. I love those surprising heavy mustard-y bites. Hats off to the chef (author)!! I am now prepared to try your next sandwich! A reuben sounds delicious.

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  23. I totally thought that a ham sandwich is to a Reuben sandwich as a scoop of ice cream is to a decked-out ice cream sundae.

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  24. I really loved your sandwich!

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  25. You really truly seriously freaking need to stop reading GOMI. It's having a negative impact on your writing in a really transparent way. Just stop. No good can come of it and this isn't like sneaking chocolate when you've cut down on sugar. It's like hitting the raw bar when you're allergic to shellfish. Food metaphor day! Seriously please stop reading there.

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  26. Man, it's getting heavy in here. Natalie, well done on your sandwich! I am looking forward to your next sandwich, hot dog, ear of corn, ice cream sundae- you shove at me! I love your wit- keep it light hearted girl and carry on! People have wayyyyyyy too much time on their hands...

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  27. I disagree with the people saying you need to take the bad reviews seriously. Creating art is for the artist, not the consumer. You express exactly what you want to as the creator. The minute artists begin to create solely based on critique from others, the minute the artist loses whatever it is that makes them special and unique. I love the way you put words together, and I'm so glad you're brave enough to do it. You must have a thick skin to do what you do, telling your story knowing that you'll get those negative comments and reviews. Keep at it, lady! And please come to Portland during your US tour!

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    1. Um, why do you think theatre productions have preview weeks and films are shown to test audiences? Why do publishing houses have editors? I agree that making art and try to please everyone will never work and be pretty soulless. I also think the attitude of 'don't listen to those silly haters and their reviews' is disingenuous at best and mean and patronising at its worst. Writing a book is a huge achievement. Getting the opportunity to hopefully write a second an even bigger one. I would want to be included with those authors that inspire debate both good and bad. Otherwise what's the point of bookgroups and websites like Goodreads? I'm speaking from personal experience from working in the arts sector- I was always pretty bad at handling criticism and deflected it at any opportunity. However on my first really big job I got some pretty harsh feedback. I knew I'd done an ok job, not amazing, but just ok. I was totally unprepared for the critique I got but you know what? I've never made any of those mistakes twice and ever since I've made damn sure I've never thought just 'ok for now' is good enough. If I'd not had that feedback and taken it on board I wouldn't have had the career I have had. Not saying that Natalie thinks ok is good enough at all. I just don't like the attitude (from alot of people out there) that anything negative is a bad thing to be ignored. Well thought out and honest criticism is so vital (not being critical for the sake of it). Bloggers publishing books is a relatively new thing and I think its important for both blog writers and their publishing companies to see what translates well from a blog to print.

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    2. Agreed! Critique is highly important to honing one's craft. However, I think artists should only take seriously the critiques of those who actually know what they're talking about. And in this case, no one is really helped by comments like, "It just wasn't what I expected, so I don't like it." I haven't seen anyone actually give real literary critique that Natalie would actually be able to use for good. I never meant anything along the lines of, "don't listen to those haters," I only meant that I hope she keeps creating according to what she hopes to express. That she should be true to herself, rather than catering to blog readers, who are not exactly literary geniuses, or even publishers.

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  28. I agree partly with what you're saying, however, this is where publishing a book due to the popularity of a blog vs submitting a manuscript as an unknown author differs. The book would never have been made if it weren't for those blog readers (and who is anyone to say they aren't literary geniuses!). Therefore a product (which I think is a key word here) is specifically being made with that audience in mind and if that audience (whom I would assume are already fans of the blog) aren't happy with the end product then their input, however 'non literary' is important as it will be taken on board by the publishers. To put out a book that an author feels like they have sole control over I think self publishing is the obvious route. Or if they want to write a work of fiction and have it not judged against their blog persona then write under a pseudonym? For what its worth I appreciate the discourse without resorting to name calling. Blog comment sections can get heated very quickly and its nice to not go down that path just because people disagree sometimes.

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  29. Ha, I don't do name calling. In my opinion, if you're mean on the Internet, you're a mean person. And I like to think I'm nice! And maybe all the mean comments are what give me the idea that blog readers aren't always literary geniuses. ;) And some readers probably are! But not all. I see what you mean about this book having a specific audience, and that their opinions matter. But I've read some of the reviews and most weren't helpful. That's all I meant. I'm a big fan of people being true to themselves as they create, and using their individual voice, so I was wanting to convey that to Natalie, who I really think is a talented writer. Also it feels weird to talk about her on comments on her blog. Like I'm talking about her while she's in the room. So hey, Natalie!

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  30. This spoke to me. Thank you.

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  31. I loved your book. I picked it up while killing a slow morning and found a chair between the science fiction/ manga aisles and skim read while sipping my Starbucks coffee. Your essay of Moscow, your own private Idaho convinced me to buy the book as I find myself in a new city following my husbands career, after another new city --wondering if in this city I will finally kick infertility to the curb. I'd have likely bought your Reuben, Apple Steak too. You have an excellent voice as a writer. Also I love your style. And I adore New York.

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  33. Whenever you're ready for that reuben, complete with infertility and extra messy thousand island, we'll be here. Until then, thanks Natalie. Your ham sandwich is something to be proud of.

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