Bad reviews, good reviews, imposter syndrome and a boring life - mushroom pies as a pick me up
At precisely two weeks ago tomorrow, something weird happened. You may remember last February I wrote a novella which I published by March, "BLOOD". Well, I must have done something right where it comes to sparking the public's interest, because so far this has been my best seller. And I must have written a good story too, because people are actually congratulating me on it, and severeal readers have asked for more, for a follow-up to that book. I intended on doing a prequel, at some point, after I was done with my Arthurian saga, I wanted to write down Marianne's story, but later this year. I wasn't very interested in following along the life of a jaded, drug addict, alcoholic rock star who finds out he is not what and who he thinks. As far as I was concerned, 'Chaos' Nilsson was done. But then two weeks ago tomorrow I woke up with a whole new story in my head, one that picked the lead singer from 'Morning Rain' where I had left him at the end of "BLOOD" and told the rest of the tale.
Obviously, all my plans for a quiet, respiteful Saturday ended right there. I vaguely remember sitting down at my laptop and writing away in a frenzy all through that weekend. And then repeating the process all through that week. I got to next Saturday completely exhausted and drained, what I had assumed would be just a short story, a tying up of loose ends already turned into another novella. But I hit a bit of a wall, over that weekend, and had no idea where the story was supposed to go, could see no way to end it. I needed to rest it a little, let it simmer in my head, try to make sense and to pinpoint exactly where I had gone wrong that it didn't feel like it was working anymore. I took a little break, hoping to be ready to tackle it back later. But then I happened to read a particular bad review about what is to this day my favourite novel, of everything I have written. I won't lie, it really got to me. It really hurt me. The one thing that stuck the most was how the reader claimed she was bored with it. The book was boring. Why did it hurt, you ask? Why did it sting so much? Well, of everything I have ever written, "Unnatural" is the one thing where my soul is most exposed. There is just so much of me there, too much of me. Basically, someone saying the book is boring is someone saying I'm boring. Which in the end, I suppose I am.
See, my life looks very bland, and boring, from the outside. I'm not adventurous, nor outgoing. I don't travel, I am a homebody most of the time. I post about food and books on social media, listen to weird music, dress as if I am still in my teens and shy away from people. I don't mind being very raw and honest about my feelings, my disappointments, my hurts, my pain. I am a melancholy person with a tendency for over-sensitivity and emotional bursts. Aside from writing novels, raising a child, catering to a husband, and blog about food, I don't seem to do much. There's no wild tales, no breath takinh moments, no fabulous events. There's no fame, no glamour, no spark of interest to my daily life. There's normalcy, an abundance of it, and a going on and on about stuff only I care about. There's a fine line dividing what I share as a way of getting stuff out of my chest and people interpreting it as me being a constant whining asshole who complains all the time - and yes, I have been told this more often than not. That I complain and complain about everything and do nothing to change the things I complain about. Basically, I'm a moaner, a grouch.
But of course, I see myself very differently. There's nothing boring about me. There's actually so much life within me, and so much life is put into every little thing I do. I am bursting with life, in fact, and I don't have many a dull moment, or am I easily bored. There are so many layers to the person I am, so many currents coursing through me. Exactly how I see myself, this is how I saw my book as well. "Unnatural" had so much hidden in between the lines, and so much story, and so much going on within every page, I was shocked someone found it boring. I wouldn't have been half as shocked if someone complained it was excessivelly emotional, or a complete cliche, trope, whatever. But boring, it had never crossed my mind that it could be. Because that novel is me, and I always assumed that was the last thing I could ever be seen as. Boring. So that review hurt more than I can explain, for reasons I suppose I am failing to make clear. But it tore down my confidence, and stuff I had been told years ago by other authors came back flooding to my mind, and had me thinking that maybe, this was not the road for me. This life of being a published writer was not for me, as I often have been told that if I can't take the heat, I shouldn't put myself out there. If I can't take criticism, then I can't publish novels, as they will be criticised, and sometimes in ways far meaner than this review - and I should know it, because I have been told far more horrible things about my books. This one only hurt because of the boring, I think. Well, all the others hurt as well, it always does.
So I went very down inside myself, to a very dark place within, and for a day I couldn't and didn't want to write. I re-read some of the stuff I've written, couldn't find where it was boring, I felt very sorry for myself, but most of all, I doubted my abbilities and my capacities, I doubted above all my merit in having been given this life, where I can get to sit down and write. If what I put out there is boring, fails to entertain the reader, than what right do I have to this, to claiming I'm a writer, to publishing my work? I riddled myself with self doubt. When I got out of bed the next day, my head was brimming with ideas for the novella I was writing and which had me stuck. I sat down for an hour and a half and wrote nearly 6000 words. Words I believe are good, and not boring at all. In a story I believe is good and not boring, either. And I still believe in "Unnatural" and it is still my most favourite novel out of all I have written, because, as I said, it is the one that is most me, and well, excuse me if I actually do like myself quite a bit and find myself extremely interesting and intriguing. And then I had a five start review for "BLOOD", and a request for an interview (which you can read here, thank you Ursulla for the opportunity) and I caught myself thinking that yeah, I will get other, many, bad reviews, and with any luck I will get more good reviews too, and I can be very sad and down about it all, but I always bounce back. I always bounce back. I go back to doing what I want to do, because in the end, this is my life, and this is how I feel alive, this how I know there's just so much life in me, and I'm way far from being boring. No one who has so many lives in their head can ever be boring, I think.
Like these mushroom pies. Come on, how can these be boring? There's dough, there's a creamy filling, there's mushrooms, what more can you ask for? So they might not be vegan, but they are vegetarian, and you can totally substitute the butter for margarine, and veganise the whole thing. I just hope you give this a try, same way I hope people give my novels a try, even if one was deemed to be boring 😉. For the pastry we used (double the recipe so you can have the lids for the individual pies, use just one recipe if cooking a single medium pie):
- 250 gr flour
- 100 gr spelt flour
- 100 gr butter or magerine
- 150 to 200 ml water
- 1 tsp salt
- aromatics of your choice (we used chives and thyme, dried)
- 400 gr mushrooms of your favourite kind, or a mix (you can either use frozen, dry, fresh or canned, it is up to you)
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- olive oil
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- thyme, salt, pepper
Start by doing the pastry, as it needs to set in the fridge. Mix the flour, salt and aromatics on a food processor. Add the cubed butter or margerine and pulse until you have a sand like consistency dough. Pour onto a bowl and slowly add in the water, mixing with a knife to combine everything together. Once the dough comes together and looks smooth, wrap it in baking parchement, form into a ball and let it rest in the fridge until you're ready to use it. The longer it rests, the better. For the filling, if you're used frozen mushrooms, please thaw them ahead. If they're dried, make sure you soak them in very hot water for at least fifteen minutes prior to using them - and keep that water as stock, it's full of flavour! If the mushrooms are fresh, clean and chop them ito chunky pieces or thin slices, whichever you prefer. On a frying pan, heat a glug of olive oil. Peel and thinly slice the onion, fry it until it starts to get transparent. Add the garlic, thinlys sliced as well, allow to fry and infuse its flavour into the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and let them sweat. Drizzle a little of the stock, let the mushrooms cook completely through, season with salt, pepper and thyme. Add a table soiin of flour and stir well, so it thickens up and becomes creamy. Add more flour if needed, or a bit of stock if it gets too thick. Take it off the heat and allow to cool. Now roll the pastry into individual pie moulds or make it into one larger pie if you can't be bothered with doing so many of them, we saometimes aren't. Prick the bottom of the pie dough with a fork, pour in the filling and cover with the dough lid, using water around the edges so it glues together. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200º until the dough is cooked through and golden looking. You can use egg wash for the pies, they come out all golden and shiny, I usually don't bother with it because we're lazy sods, but it does look much better. Do give these a try and let me know what you think!