Don’t Feed the Inner Critic!

Today, I’m going to be talking about my newly released Faeriewalker e-novella, “Girls’ Night Out.” I am not going to give away any overt spoilers. However, if you want to be 100% surprised if and when you read it and not have any ideas planted in your head that might cause you to figure out a spoiler on your own, you might want to skip everything I write after I the big Spoiler Alert heading.

First, I’m going to start out with a brief excerpt, which will potentially help you understand what I’m going to talk about under the spoiler alert heading.

Dana is auditing a class at Avalon University, and she has just met Althea, who is the Unseelie Queen’s daughter. Dana has taken an instant dislike to Al, but she gets roped into going to lunch with her, at which point Al admits she thinks her mother has run her human boyfriend off.

***

“You wouldn’t by any chance be willing to take me into London to look for him, would you?” she asked, and there was no missing the hint of calculation in her eye.

I forgot about the lie I’d been trying to come up with as I gaped at her. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said, although I knew she wasn’t. My stomach clenched as I realized this was why she’d approached me in the first place. I was the only Faeriewalker in Avalon, and one of only two (that I knew of) in the entire world. Thanks to my rare power, I could take a mortal into Faerie, and I could take a Fae into the mortal world—as long as they stayed close to me, within the aura of my Faeriewalker’s power. Through some experimentation with mortal objects in Faerie, I’d determined that my aura stretched for about fifteen yards around me.

“I can pay,” Al said. “A lot, actually. It would be a quick trip. Just a few hours. We’d go to Gary’s home, and—”

“No,” I said with a firm shake of my head. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel hurt over this, over the fact that she’d tried to befriend me just because she wanted to use me. I should be used to being used by now. Hell, even Ethan and Kimber had wanted to use me when they’d first met me. And maybe if Al hadn’t pretended to be interested in friendship from the beginning, it wouldn’t have stung so much. But she had pretended, and it did hurt, even though I didn’t want to be friends with her anyway.

“Please, Dana—”

“Absolutely not!” I shoved the remains of my sandwich back into the paper bag, sure an angry flush was creeping up my neck. “It’s way too dangerous. If I took you into the mortal world and you got more than about five feet away from me, you’d be dead.” So it was an exaggeration, and she could actually get about fifteen yards from me without dying. Sue me. I thought it might discourage Al from asking anymore.

“So I’d have to stay close. I could do that.”

I had so many objections to this idea I couldn’t even begin to voice them all. But one of those objections rose above the rest, clamoring the loudest. “I may not be an official member of the Seelie Court,” I said — because although my father was Seelie, I’d categorically refused to pledge my allegiance — “but if I were to take an Unseelie princess out into the mortal world and something went wrong, it could very easily start a war between the Courts.” Faerie wars had been started for far less cause, and had devastating effects not just on the Fae, but on the mortals unlucky enough to get caught in the middle. “I’m not about to risk that, and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind.”

I leapt to my feet, no longer caring about being polite, so pissed off I was practically vibrating with it. I doubted Al was an idiot. She had to know how risky her suggestion was, and not just to her personally. And yet she was willing to risk something that could start a war just so she could confront a boyfriend who refused to answer the phone when she called. The selfishness of it blew me away.

“Wait!” Al cried, jumping to her feet also and grabbing my arm to keep me from storming off.

Our sudden movement had startled the flock of pigeons who’d been feasting on Al’s sandwich, and we were both buffeted by the gusts of air from their wings. I hoped one of them crapped on Al’s glamour-enhanced hair.

“Let go,” I growled. “I have to go home now.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Finn watching our interaction closely, but he didn’t come any closer. I silently thanked him for letting me handle things. From the look on his face, I suspected Al’s bodyguard would have flattened me if I’d grabbed her like she was grabbing me.

“I’m so sorry!” Al said, still holding my arm. Her blue eyes glimmered with tears as she looked at me beseechingly. “I’ve made a total hash of everything.” One of those tears leaked down her cheek, and she made no move to wipe it away. “I shouldn’t have asked that of you. I just . . .” She sniffled, finally letting go of me and staring down at the ground, the picture of repentance. “I just wanted to see Gary, to make sure he was all right. It was stupid, and I’m sorry I asked.”

She looked so sad I might have believed her, if I didn’t keep getting stuck on the suspicion that the only reason she’d approached me in the first place was because she meant to ask this very favor.

“Please forgive me,” she said, sucking her lower lip with its piercing into her mouth and making a pouty face.

I’m really not that much of a forgiving type—just ask my mom—but something about Al kept stirring me to reluctant sympathy. I didn’t really believe she deserved to be forgiven, but I let out a sigh anyway.

“Okay,” I said. “I forgive you.”

Her face lit up, the tears vanishing so quickly I wondered if they’d been nothing more than a glamour-induced illusion. “Thank you!” she gushed, then hugged me so tight I feared my ribs would crack. Her magic surged over me even more strongly, stealing my breath.

I pulled away from the hug as soon as I could. Al was still beaming at me. “On Friday, you’re letting me buy you lunch,” she informed me. “Just to make up for me being such a bitch today.”

Words stuck in my throat. I had zero desire to have lunch with her Friday, or any other day, for that matter. “That’s really not necessary,” I choked out.

“Of course it is,” she said firmly. “It’ll be fun. You’ll see. Maybe we can go do a little shopping together afterward. I haven’t been shopping for three months, and that’s tragic, don’t you agree?”

“Uh—”

“I’ll see you on Friday!” she said, not waiting for my agreement. She did that lip-sucking thing again, making me wonder if the ball in her lip was actually a real piercing rather than a glamour.

“See you Friday,” I heard myself saying lamely, feeling like I’d just been run over by a speeding truck.

***

SPOILER ALERT

Here’s where you may want to stop reading if you don’t want me to make you notice things you might not have noticed on your first reading; things that will turn out to be important later.

You have been warned.

I went through quite an internal struggle when I was writing this novella, because for the story to work the way I wanted it to, I was going to have to make Dana do things she ordinarily wouldn’t do. The scene above is an example. Dana is usually much more stubborn than that, and she’s never willing to let anyone, even really dangerous people, push her around. The vague spoiler I’m going to give you is that there’s more going on (both in this scene and in other scenes where Al talks Dana into doing things against her better judgment) than meets the eye. But while I was writing it, I just knew that some of my readers were going to get frustrated with Dana’s behavior, or were going to think she was behaving out of character. In fact, that doubt was almost strong enough to stop me from writing the story.

I finally persuaded myself to live with the risk I was taking. I figured that most of the people who bought “Girls’ Night Out” would already be fans of the Faeriewalker series, and because of that, they might trust me enough to keep reading through any annoyance they might feel. Basically, I had to trust my readers to trust me, if that makes any sense.

Fast forward to this week, when I did something I NEVER do, because I know better. I saw that someone had posted the first review of the story on Amazon, and I read the review. (I know, slap my wrist now.) And it was as if that reader had sprung straight from the nightmare that had almost prevented me from writing the story in the first place. She said she was so irritated by how Dana was allowing herself to be pushed around that she didn’t finish reading the story. *Insert the irritating, off-key voice of my inner critic screeching “I told you so” to the tune of the Chicken Dance*

Okay, yes, it’s one reader. And we had a little discussion in the comments, and it seems the problem is more that the story isn’t her cup of tea, rather than that she actually stopped reading for the reason stated. But this is the reason I don’t read reviews–that inner critic is still laughing and chortling, telling me everyone who reads the story will throw it across the room before they find out what’s really going on. And that inner critic almost stopped me from writing the story in the first place. (Please note that I am not in any way complaining about the review or the reviewer! I am complaining about how I reacted to what she said, because I’m a neurotic writer and that’s what we do.)

My inner critic has more than enough power already. I know better than to feed her by reading reviews and give her more tools to torture me with. And I know better to listen to her when she says I shouldn’t write something because someone might not like it.

Despite all the self-doubt and the evil plots of my inner critic, I’m glad I didn’t give in. I’m glad I wrote the story I wanted to and didn’t let myself be scared away. I hope I never let that inner critic make my decisions for me. And I have reaffirmed my conviction that reading reviews is hazardous to my mental health.

In case you want to read the story yourself to see what’s really going on . . .

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About Dame Jenna

Jenna Black got her BA in physical anthropology from Duke University. She dreamed she’d be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making discoveries about primate behavior. But then she did some research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend about 80% of their time doing exciting things like sleeping and eating. Concluding this discovery was her life’s work in the field of primatology, she moved on to such jobs as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation. She writes urban fantasy for Bantam Dell and young adult urban fantasy for St. Martin’s.

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