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Everybody is a Star Who the Rain Chase the Dust Away

So I’m pitching a reality show to the networks called VOICE. Four judges will turn their backs to the writers who are trying out. I’m thinking Jonathan Franzen, Junot Diaz, Joan Didion and Jhumpa Lahiri. The writers will come out and read a paragraph of their book. If the judges like what they hear, they will turn their chairs. Then the writers will pick which celebrity judge will be their coach. They will have battles and steals and Joan and Junot will fall in love.

How would like your work to be judged?

20 Responses

  1. I taught for years in architecture school. Studio projects (typically three per semester) were quick, all about churning out a jillion ideas and sorting through them as fast as possible. And I think it makes students glib and superficial. Nothing was ever carried forward to fuller thought.

    I don’t want my work to be judged on its first line, its first paragraph, its elevator pitch. That way lies the Twitter-lit of sketch comedy and slam poetry. Like all good relationships, I’d like a little time to grow, a little time to convince you of intelligence and goodwill and resilience. But we’re in a loud, flashy, swipe-right culture, way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.

    • herb, you get it!

    • But isn’t it true that you judge every book you read, first, by the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page? You know it right away: whether you want to take the journey or not. I think VOICE would totally work.

      • At least for me, it’s not. If I was attracted to it for some reason, or it came recommended by others, I’ll give it 20 or 30 pages. By that point, I have a sense if it’s a trip I want to take, and a companion I want to be with. Style is visible right off the get-go; generosity takes longer to reveal itself, because it needs context within which to be seen.

        That said, of course, we’re judged by EVERY sentence. The one in the middle of p187 had better be as good as the one that starts us off.

    • Hey, snowflake. Read the first line of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale, The Secret Garden (pub. 1911), and you’ll understand that great writers have been grabbing readers right between the ears since waaaaaay before Twitter. I hear that the bible also has a killer elevator pitch. OH, and Charlotte’s Web:” Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

      God I hate architects. Back in my dating days, I ruled out architects because they were so dull that they have to wear weird eyeglasses to make themselves “interesting”. But I digress.

      • And bowties. “The bowtie is the nose ring of the conservative.”

        Anyway, your blinding hostility aside, I’m not an architect. I tried, mostly in vain, to help pending architects understand that there were actually going to be people in there, that they weren’t just making interesting geometric compositions.

        In fact, that’s probably one of the reasons I so despair the first-line insistence. Architectural design as currently taught is wholly visual, intended to grab the viewer with first visceral impact. The fact that there were going to be people making use of that building, inhabiting it and working within it and tending to their dying parents within it for decades, was of absolutely no interest to the design-y types who so loved the Corbusian glasses and Italian shoes. So what gets published and photographed and what actually lifts people above their hard daily lives and helps them have some dignity and some pleasure are often two different things.

        And when the opening line is “hey, snowflake,” then I know I can safely put that story aside.

  2. publicly, 3/5 on amazon is about right.

    privately, i’d like to be judged as someone who finishes her work; a propensity for abruptness aside, isn’t considered a complete asshole; and apologizes when she fucks up. and, most importantly, that her eyebrows are on point.


  3. Let she who is without synonym cast the first stone…

  4. I don’t actually give a fuck anymore how my work is judged. I wrote my goddamn literary masterpiece (“too dark for these trying times; people want escapism”), a commercial blockbuster (“straddles several genres”), plus several others that got published under a pen name which I can’t discuss at the Christmas family party because the loser uncles might think me trashy. I’ve knocked on the fucking top floor door so many times my goddamn knuckles are bloody. I don’t care anymore.

    • The “straddles several genres” just kills me. I mean, tell the damn bookstores to buy three copies, so they can put one in cozy mystery, one in police procedural, and one next to Hillary Mantel over on the important-books shelf. And online?? Category hypertags cost nothing, they should apply them profusely. Tell your publisher it’s a “crossover SUV” and that you’re ahead of the times.

      I’m working on the pseudonym myself. I write PG13, R, and NC17, and the latter will cause me trouble both professionally and in my little village.

    • (You sound like you care.) My sympathies. I’ve been there, too, but my take is different. It’s always been all my fault. I fuck myself over and make stupid mistakes.

    • I am unsettled that you care so much about what your loser uncles think about you. Cowgirl up and take your rightful place as the sorely maggiore, dude. And write your memoir, pleeeeeeeeese. I want to read about how lonely it is at the top.

  5. Ha! I am a Voice fan and we discuss this exact scenario often. Franzen is Adam, Didion is Alicia, Junot is Gwen, but I’m not sure Jumpha is Blake! (No one is Blake, he’s unique.) it’s good way to understand what a writer’s voice is, and how it does come across in the first paragraph. as on the show though, the artists are apt to surprise later, after some coaching and when they get more confidence. it makes sense to judge right away, but it isn’t always accurate. the public judging has some flaws too. they consistently like country, which is only one way.

  6. I’ve never been a fan of audio books until a certain book was published and I received five. Very interesting (at least to me) how inflection, and pronunciations, and other vocal calisthenics lend to a pleasing experience – or not.

    This is why we’re told to read the crap pile we wrote out loud, right? (I’m in the copy edit stage of the next book and wondering how it’s getting published. I need coffee or vodka – maybe both)

    So, to the question, how would I like my work to be judged? Truthfully, I suppose – even if it hurts.

    • Sigh. The point about audio books…I can envision the judges listening to someone reading, and it would be like a snippet of an audio book…that’s what I was thinking when I wrote the comment, and ya know, you all were supposed to “know” that.

  7. “I don’t read, but if I did I would absolutely hate this book.”
    -Donald J. Trump, White Supremacist in Chief

  8. I’m with Voice. First sentence, first paragraph, first page, gotta read it. I found all my favorite books that way. Now that I’m not in school anymore, if I can’t read it I don’t. (Hmm, buy a book chip, insert it into your implanted book port, installed for almost free, and get the experience of the book in seconds, the plot, the picture. Horrifying, but without Voice that’s what we’ll get. I’m with you, Betsy!)

  9. Yeah, I want to be judged by the first 90 seconds of my performance. Because I’m THAT GOOD.

  10. “How would like your work to be judged?”

    By a jury of my peers

    “How would like your work to be judged?”


    “How would like your work to be judged?”

    Trenchant yet welcoming.

    “How would like your work to be judged?”

    A bargain at the price.

    “How would like your work to be judged?”


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