Was it a slap in the face with a dead herring?

I was paid a compliment yesterday – at least I think it was a compliment. It was one of those things someone said that, on first hearing, makes you want to turn around, scratch their eyes out and serve ’em up as quails eggs. However, on more mature reflection, i.e. counting to ten…I pondered the possibility that this individual wasn’t trying to be offensive – but had just landed me a back-handed compliment.

I’ll give you the back story. For once I had very reluctantly allowed a friend to read a short story of mine. Normally I don’t do this unless I know it’s going to be published because I prefer to keep my friends rather than condemn them to a slow lingering death for puncturing my pride. My friend is what I call a long-distance pal; we don’t see each other very often but when we do the town sells out of red paint. She knew I was addressing the issue (adoption)and pestered me to see the final mss. Since she had helped me with a few factual questions I thought it only fair to share. I emailed her a copy and said, more out of politeness than humility, “let me know what you think”. Fatal DOS error!

A few days later she phoned me and gave me a line by line critique of my story. After some 40 minutes I confess my arrogance is such that I’d glazed over until I heard the words,
“well that’s what I think. Hope it’s been helpful. It shouldn’t take you long to make those changes. I mean it’s such a simple story anyone could’ve written it. Ciao, see you soon.”

After such a dismissive goodbye I brooded for a while, sorely tempted to fish out my Christmas card list and cross her off. However, we’ve been friends a good long while so there had to be something worth salvaging. Then it hit me – ” a simple story anyone could’ve written” that was the compliment. All the struggles I had in writing it, the mechanics of the plot – these were all hidden from her. The characters I’d created were believable; she could relate to them. Perhaps this is what short story writing is about-producing a piece that glides smoothly like the swan, yet hiding all the paddling that’s going on underneath?

Am I deluding myself? Was it a slap in the face with a dead herring after all? Is it just my bruised ego trying to rationalise? Who knows – I’ll wait for the editor’s verdict.

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