By Sharon Potts
The first time I remember feeling it was when I was five years old. I had danced in a ballet recital. The curtain went down, then came up to thundering applause. All we little girls in our pink tutus hurried to the edge of the stage. Parents and other people in the audience handed up beautifully wrapped presents, bouquets of flowers. My heart pounded with anticipation. I reached out for a box with a tangle of pink ribbons, but it was for another girl. I lunged for a bouquet of red roses. Not mine.
Tears welled up in my eyes. Didn’t they love me?
And then, as though by magic, I found myself holding a single white rose.
I don’t believe I’m that different from other people. I crave approval. I want to be liked. Loved is even better. Unfortunately, my early careers weren’t the kinds that garnered many oooohs and ahhhhs. Think about it, when was the last time you hugged your accountant? But then twelve years ago, after selling the recruitment firm I’d owned, I began writing novels — the career of my heart. A career I hoped would bring me love and approval.
Then the reviews came.
Yeah, yeah. I know—authors are not supposed to read reviews of their books. But tell the truth, you writers out there—don’t you Google yourself half a dozen times a day when you have a new book out? And when someone, anyone, doesn’t adore your book, it hurts, doesn’t it?
The very first review I got for my debut suspense novel, IN THEIR BLOOD, hit me like a cold, stinky rag.
The liberal use of bad language and the "f" bomb were used so often that I wondered if the author was getting a bonus for every one she used.
A bonus? Really? So I counted "f" bombs. I wouldn’t have made very much money and only the bad guys used bad language.
The reviewer continued:
The basic mystery was fair, but it was hidden so deep beneath uninspiring characters and cliché plot devices by the end I really didn’t care about the "whodunit."
Uninspiring characters. Cliché plot devices.
Remember, folks. This was my very FIRST review of my very first published novel. It had taken me eight years to get to this point and I had rewritten IN THEIR BLOOD eight times before it was accepted by a publisher.
Several other reviews followed. These new ones were positive. But I hardly noticed.
Uninspiring characters. Cliché plot devices.
That’s all I could focus on.
Then the review from Publishers Weekly came out. A starred review!
I felt vindicated. I started writing again.
For my second thriller, SOMEONE’S WATCHING, I was better prepared for the negative and the positive, but I still braced myself for the reviews. I had chosen to take risks that might offend some readers, but it was more important to me to be true to my story than to try to please everyone. SOMEONE’S WATCHING did well. Lots of positive reviews. No hate mail.
I should have left things as they were.
But a year and a half ago, inspired by old scrapbooks I’d found of my mother-in-law’s movie career in 1930s Berlin, I got a fresh idea. My mother-in-law, whose stage name was Susi Lanner, had been a fairly prominent actress featured in over a dozen films. I was intrigued by a cigarette card (think trading card) that I found of her with a ruffled bonnet perched jauntily in her curls, a flirtatious smile on her lips. And I thought about what it must have been like for her to have been an actress in Berlin at a time in history that was becoming increasingly dark and threatening. The people she may have met. The undercurrent of fear. The pressure to do or say the right things … or else.
And I thought, what if? What if there had been another beautiful, struggling actress in Berlin at that time? And what if this other actress became involved with the wrong people and did things that would haunt her and her descendants throughout their lives? And so from an old cigarette trading card, THE DEVIL’S MADONNA was born.
The book I wanted to write explored some pretty chilling propositions. Possibilities that I recognized could make readers squirm in discomfort. But I felt the questions that arose were important ones. Can the innocent be guilty? The guilty innocent? Should the sins of the fathers be visited upon their children? (I believe the Bible took this one on, too.) At what point do we forgive? And who should be forgiven?
Edgy. Uncomfortable. Controversial. I did not want to write a pat, reassuring ending. I wanted to make readers think. To feel. To really consider. But what if in doing so, readers hated my book? Or me?
Should I have wrapped things up nicely? I couldn’t. I felt it wouldn’t be honest. My publisher agreed. They were among the first to love the book. And so on September 4, 2012, THE DEVIL’S MADONNA was officially released.
Early reviews are in. Some hurt. I believe those reviewers misunderstood the book. Other reviewers love it. Think it’s the best book I’ve written. I’m deeply grateful to them.
Now the book is out there. It’s up to the readers. And once again I feel as though I’m a five-year-old ballet dancer standing at the edge of the stage hoping someone will throw me a bouquet of flowers.
But a single white rose would do very nicely.
Sharon Potts is the critically acclaimed author of three thrillers about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Sharon has worked as a CPA and business executive and is vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Her novels include the award-winning IN THEIR BLOOD and SOMEONE’S WATCHING. In her latest thriller, THE DEVIL’S MADONNA, a young pregnant woman, threatened by a stalker, discovers secrets about her grandmother’s life in 1930s Berlin that will have devastating consequences for her marriage, her unborn child, and perhaps even the world.