So, many of you here probably know the book review I did for the Professor and the Dominatrix, and my dissection of its less than stellar purple prose. In fact, I’d guess that’s how the majority of you found my blog. There was a lot of debate if John Harrigan, the author, was even a real person or not. Was he just a poe? Was this whole book a big joke? (Yes, the book was that bad). No one seemed to be able to find any information on this elusive professor.
Guess who I just got an email from.
How can I be sure it’s him? One, it’s from the email he included in his letter that came with the book. Two, the writing style is exactly the same kind of rambling stories as the letter and book. Three, I don’t think anyone would take this much time out of their life for a minor hoax. And Four, apparently my brother’s girlfriend has actually met the guy, and vouches that he is in fact real.
Yes, I got an email from the Professor, and he is not happy. He’s so unhappy, in fact, he wrote a giant response to my book review and emailed it to every person he had sent a free copy to. I have to give him kudos though – at least he linked to my blog in the email! Free advertisement, woo! Since I’m a nice girl, and he obviously wants his opinion known, I’ll be kind enough to post his email below. I’m not one to silence disagreeing opinions.
I’m going to say my main response right now, in case you can’t make it through his email (which I don’t blame you). I admit, I feel sort of bad that I’ve upset the guy, as that wasn’t my goal. But at the same time, I’m a little honored that a random 21 year old blogger could upset someone enough that they take the time to write up such a response. I think this really illustrates the difference between a professional author and well…someone who’s not. Authors don’t take every negative review as a personal insult that requires a direct individual response. No, they take the criticism and move on. Not everyone is going to like your book. Not everything you write is going to be brilliant. I’ll freely admit I’ve written a lot of shit before (though I didn’t self publish it and send it to hundreds of strangers…). I think some people just honestly don’t understand that they’re not great writers. You get a bunch of friends and family members to read your stuff, and of course most of them will say it’s lovely…but they’re probably either being nice, or really aren’t literary experts. This builds up this false sense of security in your writing ability, which is far more dangerous than a healthy level of cynicism. When you’re proofreading, it’s probably best if your “Oh this is crap, gotta fix that, what the hell was I thinking” to “I’m AWESOME” ratio is greater than one. Just sayin’. And you know what, it’s okay if you’re not a great writer – we’re not all brilliant at everything. I’m tremendously clumsy at most sports and can’t play a musical instrument. Should I wail away at a piano and still expect people to say I’m Beethoven? No.
I will say just this: I AM sorry if I originally came off as directly calling the author racist/sexist/homophobic. I mainly thought the book just came off that way and was a failure to express his true intentions. That is, he was TRYING to be progressive, but unfortunately failed miserably. I know I had said that to friends before typing up my review, but I guess that disclaimer didn’t get into the final product. I’m also sorry for any bitchy ad hominem attacks I may have used. At the time of writing the review, only a couple of my friends read my blog, so I didn’t expect anyone (especially the author) to ever see it. Then the review hit Pharyngula and exploded over the internet (it was even being Twittered!). I guess this is a good lesson to be careful of what you put online.
However, I do not apologize about any of my criticisms in the book. I still stand by my opinion that it was awful writing and a poor message for promoting atheism. It’s unfortunate if that hurts your feelings, but the world is a cruel place. If anyone wants to read this book and post their own opinion, be my guest. You don’t have to agree with me. If you live near me, I can lend you the book.
Anyway…for your reading pleasure, here is the email with some of my comments. I realize this may seem hypocritical, since I just said how lame it was to respond to someone not agreeing with you…but I am a bored college student with nothing else to do.
“(Sent to those who have received a copy of my book.)
Purdue Jen’s Criticism of Harrigan’s The Professor and the Dominatrix.
Jen invites readers to visit her at http://blaghag.blogspot.com/2009/04/book-review-professor-and-dominatrix.html. I did and read her “scathing” (nine page) assault on my novel–linked by some of her chorus of correspondents (nine pages more) to the writings of atheist Ayn Rand and the two religionists Tim Lahaye and Bill O’Reilly–people I’d rather not be linked to. The comment from the chorus I liked best was, “The book brought vomit to my mouth.” I got the impression that she meant the review did that, not the book. Umm…yes, that’s why she said “book” and not “review.” Obviously what she meant. Another neat one was, “The book proves that God does nor exist because He never would have allowed such a book to be written.” So much for Free Will. So much for sarcasm.Some thought I might be an undercover Christian trying to make atheists look bad by identifying myself with them. Sigh. Others thanked Jen for saving them from reading the book–“taking the bullet” for them.
I haven’t had anything to do with college students for over twenty years. It was delightful to get a touch of their minds again, their enthusiasm for justice, even when misguided. Jen, God love her, intimated that if she ever had a class with me–the Giant Troll, the al-round bigot who fixedly smiled at her from the back cover–she’s drop it. Technically I meant a class in the style of Prof. Slane, but now recognizing that they are effectively the same person – yes, I would drop it. Or more likely, give up on taking notes once I realized there was no rhyme or reason to any of the lectures. Perhaps I could bring her along like I did Elsie in the book. In my defense, when I retired, my students established a scholarship in my name. Has that ever happened before? Anywhere? Don’t tell me it has: I don’t want to hear it. …Yeah, I’m not even going to waste my time with this one.
So, let’s get to it. I’m going to correct her paper; just part of it, otherwise the corrections could go on for nine pages. First, let me say, Jen obviously likes to write and is rather clever. She could probably sell salt water at the ocean side and sell her opinions as facts when in an argument. Woo. Well, we all tend to do that. Distorted optics is a world-wide disorder, religiosy or atheist, doesn’t matter. Jen has a thing about the demeaning of women. I do too. It is one of my big gripes about the sky-god religions–all three of them give me a pain in the bowels.
Perhaps a point of contention, I don’t see men and women as genetically equivalent (gender feminism) but as genetically complementary, with a lot of similarities. They play complementary roles in reproduction, in raising children. Yet, this can be quite tricky. Female penguins have been known to donate an egg to a “married” male pair to hatch and raise the little one. With cloning likely in the future, what next? Have you ever tried to objectively define homosexual? Real buddy penguins have been known to break up and take off with females. Republicans become Democrats! Baptists become atheists! Behavior can change. Most homosexuals (cultural and genetic) don’t change over, yet some cultural ones do. I actually mostly agree with him here. I just think he did a poor job at expressing his views in the book.Some play on both sides of the fence, depending on situation and opportunity. More fun, they say. Aaand that shimmering moment of agreement is gone. Insert a bisexual facepalm here.
No cheers from Jen on the male characters I worked over: the killer, Officer Fudpucker, Senator Gaylord Sludge, Reverend Smiley Tuttle, porno Slick Wilson, governor’s aide Tom Collins. I’m sorry, apparently my nine page “assault” wasn’t long enough. Let me go back and include every single character I missed. Jen said that I described all the women in my novel as either young and ditsy or old and disgusting. That’s an outright lie. Or, more likely, she has herself so hyped-up about the way women and homosexuals have been mistreated that she has become hyper-vigilant in looking for any sign of the old bigotries. See a sign and she becomes “The Avenger.” The sign? Do I get a bat signal? Ooo ooo ooo! Is it a giant vagina in the sky? The villain in the story is a homosexual. Awwww. Off and running, she then saw signs I was attacking women and blacks, too. I am inordinately fond of women. By choice, my primary physician is a woman. I voted for Obama. I have gone out of my way to emotionally support homosexual patients–even managing their money and medication, finding them a place to live, featuring one in a nationally- distributed education film. The “I have a black/gay/female friend so I’m obviously not racist/homophobic/sexist argument has been torn to pieces so many times, I’m not even going to touch it. On women, I just don’t find in my writing the demeaning stuff that Jen does or imagines or makes up. Just because you, a male, don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Woah, sorry for the triple negative. I suspect that she was intent on damning the book from the first page on. (More on that later when I discuss The Silence of the Lambs.) Actually I was really fricking excited to read this book. Sex and atheism? Hell yeah!
Consider, dungeon workers Kitty Kentuck and Tilley Jones are two charmers with good hearts and humor. Sexy plus but not ditsy. They get a lot of pages. Jen doesn’t even mention them. Again, let me turn it into a 20 page review. Honestly, I didn’t like them much either. Old, neat, kindly Birdie Cabe has the whole second chapter to herself. I wrote her to contrast the homosexual psychopath of Chapter One. Jen’s description from reading me, “Frumpy old hotel maid who does nothing but talk about her deceased husband.” My description in part, “She pressed the draperies-control button on the wall by the multi-paned window: the motor hummed and the draperies opened and the morning sunshine streamed in. She looked out the large window, thinking again of Charlie, feeling lonesome enough to cry.” Clearly, she had loved Charlie. What Jen did to my beloved Elsie really got to me. I started Elsie, Beauty Queen of the Onion Festival, as the dumb blond of jokes, but with a heart, then evolved her to smarter than she seemed, finally to a real Wonder Woman who was the only one to face the killer and set him on the run. Did Jen even read the page? Yes, yes I did. The female detective was seen by Jen as someone for other officers to hit one. Jen gave me another demerit for having the detective briefly become embarrassed in the porno shop interview. Simply awful that I did that. I gave the detective full credit for being a good cop in the tradition of her murdered father. The murdered bisexual clergyman’s prostitute wife I defined in the middle of the story as tragic. “When he (the lover all through her college years) left, she felt as if the bottom had dropped out of her life. She had no purpose. She knew, deep down, that she was desperate. She avoided loneliness by living unconcerned, living for amusements, but got bored and kept trying harder to amuse herself by being extreme in what she did. A thought haunted her: you can’t make a life out of games and amusements. In a way it seemed as if she had died.” It was after the loss of her lover that she became a prostitute. Jen, made her only a “skanky ho” on the basis of how she read me, keeping to her belief that I demeaned women. Fine, I guess she was a desperate, emotionally traumatized ho. My bad. I stand corrected. She criticized my dominatrix for a desire to find a good man, angry that I had not kept her fully independent. She distorted the roles of others and left out three more (that makes five) in a list she presented as complete.
Continuing with distorted optics, Jen’s misreading, as I have noted, carried over to race. I introduced the black mayor in a chapter beginning with a discussion of the development of black English in Africa and America. He was defined as smart and savvy but slipped into the black English of his parents when upset–he was upset in a good part of that chapter. I occasionally ignored political correctness to phonetically spell Irish, Mexican, and Italian accents. ‘Tis more realistic, the way people actually sound. It didn’t annoy me out of political correctness. It annoyed me because it’s BAD WRITING. Jen really had a blind spot for the good black policeman who always spoke standard English. He stood out on several pages, including the final chapter. How could she have missed him? She said there was only one black in the story. Huh, okay. I will admit that I have absolutely no idea what character he’s talking about, so I must have missed him. Maybe I didn’t realize he was black because his reversion to stereotypical ghetto talk wasn’t beaten over my head for three straight pages. I’m going to give him th
e benefit of the doubt that this wonderful black character exists, since I really don’t want to have to reread the book to double check.
A minor item to be sure, she even saw the Mickey Mouse watch on the wrong person, an example of her constant tripping and falling through the text. Heaven forbid I put the Mickey Mouse watch on the wrong cop! That was such an important and relevant part of the plot!!! I don’t buy into her claim that she was really trying to do an honest review. Honestly, yes, I was, but I guess you don’t have to believe me. I had no reason to go into the book against you. Some part early in the story really burned her. Well, okay. The sheer awfulness of the first third of the book burnt me off. I admit to skipping the couple pages on boxing, but that’s really all. I didn’t even skim the rest, but maybe my brain was involuntarily shutting itself off. I have an impression that she then prepared for her diatribe by consulting a book or chapter on bad writing and attributed everything she found to me, desperate blows. No, I just really enjoy writing. I’ve taken two creative writing classes, read a number of writing books, and write quite a bit myself. I have had a lot of practice critiquing stories. I promise you, I did not go to the extra time and effort to consult other books. Please kept in mind that an experienced editor praised my book and that my articles and scripts have always been considered tops. For ad hominem attack look at this: “Has this guy (me the author) ever even had sex. If he has, I feel bad for whatever woman had to put up with it.” I can’t write, I can’t even screw, I’m in a bad way!
There are three fully-homosexual male characters in the story: the serial killer; one of his victims, Valentine Sisley; and a denizen of a gay bar. The gay bar one is interviewed by a gruff and tough and homophobe cop named Fudpucker. These four characters are within the bounds of reality. To keep to reality for the chapter on Slick Wilson’s porn store, I got permission from a porn store owner in Florida to spend a week of evenings behind the counter to study customers. It was quite interesting, good duty. You’d be surprised who buys. This store, as is Slicks, is clerked by women and sells some scanty clothes. The majority of shoppers were young to middle-age women, singularly and in groups. When they bought dildos, they were always sure to get the right batteries. What do you make of me for saying that, Jen? Yay for women wanting vibrating dildos? I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be offended at this paragraph or something, because I’m not.
The demeaning of women Jen conjured up from my story reminds me of an event that happened when I was in the fourth grade, Catholic school, boys on the left by the windows, girls on the right by the blackboards. The kid at the desk in front of me cut a ripper. Everyone looked, even the nun. The kid turned and pointed at me. So, you’re saying someone else wrote this horrible book, and they put your name on it?
Jen trashed my book in every way; “Horrible, unintelligible writing . . . Rambling, nonsensical monologues.” (Like this?) Her detailed condemnation was enough, as I have noted, to bring vomit to the mouth of one of her fans. That’s effective writing. Um… I think we already established… ….oh, never mind, it’s not worth it. I have seen this sort of thing before in an attempt to trash Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code. The critic claimed that Brown had no knowledge of writing, couldn’t put together a decent sentence, diagramed paragraphs as proof. The critic didn’t mention religion at all, just Brown’s terrible writing. I actually quite like the DaVinci Code. I’ve said it before: it’s not beautiful writing, but the story is so engaging that it makes up for it. The Professor and the Dominatrix utterly fails at both rhetoric and plot. Several years ago, a church in my home city of Portland, Maine requested a permit to have a bonfire in the city park. They wanted to publicly burn Harry Potter books. They didn’t get the permit. In Thomas Harris’s classic suspense novel The Silence of the Lambs the serial murderer is a psychopathic homosexual known to the FBI as Buffalo Bill. As I recall the movie, there is one scene where he is sitting in front of a cosmetic-desk mirror wearing his jacket made of skins peeled from women he kidnapped. He is carefully applying lipstick, a cosmetic early used by Egyptian female prostitutes to denote the specialty of fellatio by bringing the color of the labium and vulva to the facial lips. Also, as I recall, a group of male homosexuals in reaction to the story angrily criticized Harris. And, it seems to be politically incorrect to link pedophile priests to homosexuality, which I do in the book. I doubt that Harris, any more than I by having a homosexual psychopath in my novel, was downgrading homosexuals per se. A male homosexual sadist who wanted to be a woman fit both stories. Obviously, being a homosexual doesn’t make one a killer on a pedophile.
My first page revealed the killer to be homosexual. As I said, perhaps setting Jen off from page one on? Did you notice when reading her criticisms how quickly she rejected my social explanation of a bad relationship with men being the cause of man hatred by the two “dykes-taking-over” students? Yes, because it is a horrible unfounded stereotype? Nothing aberrant about them: no need to find a cause. For a discussion of the role of experience as source of uncommon behavior, see my discussion of the Flanagan masochist case on pages 67-68.
Jen’s writing suggests to me that she is excitable weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, prone to race along, miss things, decode by illusion. Or I didn’t think my book review would be graded by the author, so I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. She is so upset by fem and sex issues that she distorts what she reads in the same manner that some religious people distort by seeing demons and the devil lurking–just the way the pious killer of the story does.If you think I’m bad, give this book to a “rabid” feminist and see what they say. I’m seriously very laid back about fem issues.
Professor Slane says to his students, “Hear me loud and clear, sexuality in itself does not make a person bad or unworthy of respect.” Sexual behavior is so varied. Most kids start out as simple (to use a British slang word) wankers. Then what often follows seems unbelievable. There is a toe licker in the book, a TV producer that gets off by being spanked, and. a tri-sexual priest (tries anything sexual). Some (those of little imagination?) stay with wanking.
I conclude now. I wrote The Professor and the Dominatrix–a book on mind-corroding religion; sex, the big player in the mind; and violence, the tool of hatred–to be more active in exposing religious nonsense. The nonfiction books by greats such as Richard Dawkins are double-damn good. But what about all those regular American folk who don’t read science or seriously consider their religious beliefs? One day I read that there are eight million references to Anna Nichole Smith on the Web. I had it. Load a book with sex to attract the regular folk. Yes, load it with some of the most horrendous sex scenes I’ve ever read. Put in pious bad guys, atheist good guys. The Professor and the Dominatrix wasborn.
I have always been laid back about sex or anything that people agree to do that doesn’t create a disturbance or hurt others or themselves.. Fairly early in life I learned that some people enjoy hurting others. Two older boys in my neighborhood would chase down a younger kid and stick his head between a forked branch of a bush–every yard had a bush or two–then yank the ends of the branches together. One time I nearly passed out from choking. To this day I cheer when the bad guy gets trounced in a TV wrestling match. Have been known to take on bullies. Take one on in the book. Returning to the fourth grade for a moment, as I said, Catholic School, boys sitting by the windows, girls by the blackboards, a park just a half-block away. Teacher’s pet Roberta and all-round boy Richard were absent from class after recess. The nun went out looking for them. Found them behind a tree in the park going at it to beat the band. She led them back to class, stood them up-front, and gave a loud (accurate for a nun) description in detail of exactly what they were doing that would lead them straight to hell.. I added nuns to the bully list. To this day just the sight of a nun makes me inwardly cringe. Back in the first grade Patti never got caught. The nun must have had a urinary problem because she was forever leaving to go to the teacher’s room. Little Patti would dash to the front of the class and expose herself, several times a day. We all would wait for the performance, in time had a lookout by the door.
Forgive me, I am an old man–mid eighties–and my mind tends to turn back time. Oh god, now I feel kind of bad. It’s one thing to rip into a retired professor, but it’s another thing to do it to an 80 something year old man. Am I a bad person? I have wondered if Patti became a stripper? Roberta a guilt-laden nun to save her soul? Or did she just decide not to get caught again?
I hope I haven’t bored you. Amazon and I will appreciate your comments on the book’s page where you see “Create Your Own Review.” No response is the worse thing. But apparently if you give a negative review, he will write you an email about it.
A matter for student writers: I submitted a query letter to Prometheus Books last year. After waiting ten weeks, I was informed by an editor that they were not taking general fiction at that time. A friend had just been published by PublishAmerica. I got a contract for Prof. & Dom. a week after submission. I was very pleased. They seemed to be a successful company, so they claimed. (One of Jen’s chorus, apparently a professor, said he knew instantly what kind of book it would be once he saw the publisher’s name. Do you always make book-by-the-cover judgments, pal? Tom Flynn reviewed a PublishAmerica book last year that he found good enough to note in Free Inquiry.)I was given six days to correct the proofs. I was determined to meet the deadline, even thought in intensive care and on heavy doses of morphine. (How Satan stayed Satin.) Even morphine can only explain so much. PublishAmerica doesn’t have relationships with print reviewers, TV, or radio. The kind of awful stuff they have the reputation for can be seen in the very last pages of my book. Some of their authors bid for publicity at the back of all PublishAmerica books. Look at the religious titles in mine and you’ll laugh. They overprice so that when they have a sale to their authors of 40% off, they still make good money. They will put your book cover on valentines, encase a copy of your first royalty check in plastic–for a fee. My friend who introduced me to PublishAmerica had a royalty check of about five dollars bounce at the bank last month. Yes, they do make their money by selling to their own authors. Really, it is heart-breaking for a lot of people–the whole publishing industry is. A good article for you folks who write is “The Last Book Party” in Harper’s Magazine, March 2009. Only three of any ten well-edited, well-published, and actively-promoted books ever make money.
I have a cousin who has been trying for a lifetime to get published. Has read all the books on how to write, listened to radio programs where authors are interviewed, everything. I sent her twelve pages of my first draft of Prof. & Dom. for comment. She called me on the phone–as she is prone to do and talk for hours at a time–and said, “How can you write stuff like that? I’ve read six pages and I can’t read anymore.” (Shades of Jen.) Why, oh why didn’t you listen to this sane human being? It was my description of the bonobos that did it, the GG stuff. I used to share a table in the faculty dinning room with an elderly teacher from the education department. She had not read a novel written after 1945 because of the “F” word. She’d roll over in her grave if she read about the whang Captain Marvel. (My spell corrector doesn’t like the “h” in whang but my dictionary prefers it.) Damn! Jen will seize upon the elderly-teacher story and use it
for another diatribe! I guess I need to keep up my trend of hating on old people now.
How did I get the marvelous comments from the experienced educator, author, editor Roy P. Fairfield? I read an article by him in Free Inquiry, saw that he lived in Maine, called him on the-telephone, and asked him to take a gander at my script. He was busy finishing a history book, but looked anyway. (Now, he has just finished yet another history book–and he‘s older than me).
The editor of The American Rationalist has been talking about reviewing Prof. & Dom. May it not bring vomit to his mouth. Ee-nuf.
Jen McCreight is a liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted feminist atheist who recently escaped Indiana for Seattle.
Learn more about Jen here.Contact: blaghagblog (at) gmail (dot) com
Disclaimer: The views on this blog are mine and not associated with my school or employer.