How a Slugfest Became a Lovefest

How a Slugfest Became a Lovefest

You either love me or hate me. There’s no in-between. I’m not an in-between kind of person. I’m noisy and laugh too loudly. I’m jokey, and I tear up easily. I can be unconventional.

But I’m a tender-hearted soul and I have a story to tell you about love and hate. About like and dislike. About understanding ourselves and leaving the scissors that cut people down at home.

I’ll Set The Scene. 

My first book. On Maggie’s Watch. My dream come true. Published by Penguin Random House, the same place that published Pride and Prejudice, 1984, and Of Mice and Men.

The little girl reader inside of me is swooning.

My book club is meeting at my house and the women have all read my book.  I’m smarting from my divorce, recovering from pneumonia, and worried that people will hate my writing. I’m wondering why I thought I could do this. I’m thinking I should stop writing.

It’s 6:30 PM

The house is clean. The kids have a babysitter. I have two kinds of hummus. Two kinds! I have wine. I have veggies on a plate. The chairs in my living room are in a circle.

The Club

The book club is a mix of good friends and acquaintances, and both groups can be fraught.

You want your friends to love your book because you love them and don’t want awkwardness or discomfort. You want your acquaintances to like your book because they represent the world of readers.

Here We Go

The doorbell rings. They come in. Hugs are given. Wine is poured. There is talk of mothering, soccer games, long to-do lists. People sigh. Friends settle in. Acquaintances inhale, and the slugfest begins. [Tweet “The doorbell rings. They come in. Hugs are given. Wine is poured. There is talk of mothering, soccer games, long to-do lists. People sigh. Friends settle in. Acquaintances inhale, and the slugfest begins.”]

Two women who I know but don’t know start in.

First one: “Yeah. I didn’t get it.”

Second one: “Me either. I don’t think it was believable.”

Everyone else: Stunned silence.

First one: “I wanted to slap the main character.”

Second one: “Oh God, me too.”

Me: Oh.

The first or second one (at this point, I don’t know who is speaking): “You’re not very good at dialogue.”

“There were mistakes in the copy.”

“You need a better editor.”

“Explain why you wrote this book again?”

“I didn’t like any of the characters.”

Everyone else: Wide-eyed terror. Attempts to defend me. So much silence. Awkward drinking of wine.

Me: Doing my best to respond professionally. But this was an attack, not a discussion. This was not done with an eye toward helping the author write a better book.

I’m thinking, “Not everyone is going to like your book, Ann. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…” and all. You know?

But do I have to get out of my own kitchen? I get that not everyone will like my book but do they have to tell me while drinking my wine, face to face eating my two kinds of hummus?? Two kinds!

Finally the night stutters to a stop and rolls into the ditch. People leave and I clean up, crying.

Pretty hard, actually. I call my friend in Minnesota. She wants names and numbers and is looking up the difference between homicide and manslaughter.

Then it’s days of, “I should have said this.” “Why didn’t I say that?” Those imagined post-conflict conversations where you are your best, able to fling back retorts and emerge the dignified victor.

What I Did. 

That’s when I remembered a friend who told me about Tall Poppy Syndrome: The joy of cutting down others. Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down during their achievements and/or success. [Tweet “That’s when I remembered a friend who told me about Tall Poppy Syndrome: The joy of cutting down others. Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down during their achievements and/or success.”]

The people with the scissors are competing. They believe they need to shove people out of the way to feel better about themselves.

The roots are in envy, jealousy, low self-esteem, and shame. I’m not immune to the quiet cut-down, the uncharitable thoughts. I’m not innocent. But I loathe myself when I notice myself doing it.

So, yeah, my night sucked. I cried. Gave myself a talking to and created Tall Poppy Writers. We are a group of writers and readers who work together to elevate women’s voices and help them find a way to connect and stay heard.

I created The Tall Poppies to remind myself to help others, speak with love, curb unnecessary competition because it’s not necessary to compete with your peers, friends, writers, people who live for the same thing you do: empathy, story, connection, and love.

There’s room for everyone’s staggered successes in the world. Lily Tomlin famously said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” And boy, Lily was right. I don’t want to be a rat or be treated like one. I want to be the sun.

There is more to be said about this. So much more. But I’m going to leave you with this thought:

You are here because you are like me. People either love you or hate you. There’s no in-between.

But here. You. Are. Loved.


XO Ann







  1. David Roth on March 30, 2022 at 9:47 am

    Dear Ann,

    I’m really impressed 1) you hosted a book club meeting for your own book (brave), 2) you were inspired to turn a bad book club experience into a welcoming and supportive resource for other writers, 3) you had two kinds of hummus.

    My last and (to date) final book club experience was a small gathering to discuss Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which I had chosen. Two women agreed they couldn’t finish the book. I asked why and one said, “She’s a terrible writer.” That’s when I decided I wasn’t cut out for book clubs. I was not, however, inspired to come up with an alternative. Love or hate your loud laugh and easy tears, ya gotta love your generous spirit.


    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:45 pm

      Just wait. 🙂
      But, yeah, the whole thing is demoralizing. Sometimes I read the negative reviews of my favorite books to stay balanced. Books that I know are amazing and I love and yet reviewers don’t. Different strokes doesn’t mean anything. It just means different strokes.

    • ALB on March 30, 2022 at 3:55 pm

      That’s horrible. I am constantly shocked that people have the gall to behave that way! I don’t even view that as a negative “review.” It does not sound like there was anything constructive about their comments. (Although these days, it really shouldn’t shock me at all because so many people do behave like that.) Anyway, thank you for persevering and turning that experience into something so positive! (And to those two women, if they happen to see this, shame on you. If children behaved in such a manner, they would have a stern talking to and perhaps a time out. Adults should know better.)

      • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:42 pm

        Thanks audra,
        It was tough all around. It’s funny, you know how they say when you grow you have adult money and sometimes it’s used in not the greatest of ways. I think it’s true of our adult voices as well. Like our audacity overwhelms our interactions. I’ve been there. I’m not immune to saying the wrong thing. Still. The book club disbanded after. xo Ann

    • Carolyn on March 31, 2022 at 4:07 pm

      Omg. I remember when this happened…it’s all coming back to me, and I remember the culprit. I likely got the detailed scoop on one of our long walks. Women supporting women through triumphs and challenges remains a work in progress, unfortunately.

      • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 7:59 pm

        I think I cried talking about it, then I was so mad. You got more than an earful. and you let me vent.

  2. Ana Veciana-Suarez on March 30, 2022 at 9:48 am

    Just what I needed. Gracias.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm

      You are so welcome. Thank you for being here.

  3. Lisa Lickel on March 30, 2022 at 11:42 am

    Reviewers and critics reflect themselves, whether a force for positive or evil. I hope one of the hummus was garluc. I love roasted garlic, not ego.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm

      Ha! I should have served a very bitter stew. xo

  4. Kelly Simmons on March 30, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Oh my God, I’ve been to several book clubs like that where people started to crucify my book, but NEVER in my own home, eating my two kinds of hummus!!! hahahaha love that detail. It’s terrible how damned BREEZY you have to be at that moment. You get to a point where you go, “I’m not doing breezy anymore. I’m going ICY.”

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      Two kinds!! It is terrible and icky to act like everything is fine.
      I don’t hold grudges but sometimes I do. lol

  5. Betty Hutchinson on March 30, 2022 at 11:51 am

    I just love you, Ann!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:40 pm

      I love you too, Betty.

  6. Barbara Turkdal on March 30, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Another good one, Ann.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks Barbara!

  7. Dan Bloom on March 30, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    Well said. Bravo, Ann.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks Dan!

  8. Jennifer on March 30, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    Aa heartbreaking as your story is, it’s also inspiring! Thank you for your honesty and just being you!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:40 pm

      Oh, Jennifer, thank you. I got over it….but you know 🙂

  9. Heidi Dunfee on March 30, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    I love you!! ❤️

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 1:39 pm

      I love you too. 🙂

  10. Doris Biddix on March 30, 2022 at 2:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Ann. Wow! How truly heartbreaking. Your honesty and writing are always admirable, spot on, and so refreshing!

    I absolutely love you! Thank you for your terrific use of language to transport me wherever we are going…YOU are gifted and amazing! Keep writing, Friend, for we are ALL here to read and listen!!!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:28 pm

      Doris–you should have your own business of a personal glow-up service. I love your positive energy. It’s a tonic. Thank you from the bottom of my bruised and healed heart.

  11. Teresa Rhyne on March 30, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    All I can think is Oh my GOD! (Not even OMG, because that’s too playful.) also, mmmm hummus. But I am glad such a wonderful thing came out of such a terrible experience,

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you. You’re so lovely. I know you know how it is. Reviewers want to review!

  12. Maggie Smith on March 30, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    And yet you went on to write more books and found a group that has helped so many others. I say you got the last word on this one and the word is LOVE. Thanks for starting out my day on such a positive note. Count me in the “love her” crowd.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:32 pm

      The word is love. I even have that tattoo on my wrist.
      Thanks Maggie and it was great to see you and meet your husband too!!

  13. Gregory Lee Renz on March 30, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    When I joined our small writer’s group, there were two toxic personalities who consistently tore apart the writing of the others. They considered themselves quite the literary masters. They were not. After several meetings, I challenged them on their critiques and offered better ways for the group to help each other with critiques. I submitted an outline I had received from Christine DeSmet for the members to check out and asked if they would like to follow that format. Of course, the Mister Toxics objected. I turned to the others and asked, “Should we try this?” They all agreed and both Mister Toxics dropped out of the group because they didn’t like the direction we were taking.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:33 pm

      You know what I’m talking about.
      People have their own agenda and we don’t have to join in. Nicely done with your group. It’s lovely that you directed that carefully for you and the others.

  14. Bette Lee Crosby on March 30, 2022 at 3:08 pm

    This was such an amazing post. So honest and from the heart. And unfortunately, so true. As a fellow author, my heart aches for what you had to go through, but on the other hand I applaud you for the wisdom with which you can now look back on it for what it truly is – a need for their self-aggrandizement. Hooray for you. Anyone who can write an article like this is destined for great things. If you ever have a ms and would like me to read for a blurb, please don’t hesitate to ask. You have my utmost admiration.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:35 pm

      Betty Lee,
      What a lovely, lovely response. I don’t think I had that wisdom right away. I smarted all around. But, I am learning that what people say is more about them than me. I have to say I welcome constructive criticism…we all NEED that to grow and learn.
      I so appreciate your support. Of course I would love a blurb from you. Soon, I will need it.
      WArly, Ann

    • Joan Nelson on March 30, 2022 at 9:01 pm

      I think you can give constructive criticism is a kind way. No need to be mean about it. You are such an impressive lady! Keep it up.

      • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:54 am

        I’m with you. It’s absolutely true.

  15. Diana Taylor on March 30, 2022 at 3:38 pm

    Hey Ann, Two snaps up!! I love ALL of you.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 5:11 pm

      LOVE YOU SO MUCH. When the sun comes out come over.

  16. Deborah Chavez on March 30, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    A few years ago, after I left my academic career writing double-blind peer reviewed articles, I tried my hand at my first novel. I asked two friends to read it and offer comments. I thought I’d be open to their ideas. It took a while, but they needed time to gently break it to me. They kindly said, “My dear, you have written a screenplay. It doesn’t read like a novel. Add more dialog, add many more details, and try again. One of them offered to be an editor on future books. They provided a soft landing for a work that deserved a different response. BTW, no hummus was involved. You were very brave to hold a book club session!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:52 pm

      This makes me so happy. You asked the right people and they handled you lovingly.
      I think my downfall if that is what it is, is that I expect people to be well-behaved. hahaha
      Silly I know. I hope you are still writing. Truly.
      thank you for being here,

  17. Linda Jessen on March 30, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    Wow! Not sure I would want to be a part of that book club. Next month one of my book clubs is meeting at the home of a good friend to discuss her first novel. Hope it goes better than that!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:40 pm

      The book club disbanded right after. Bring your friend flowers and lots of alcohol. hahah

  18. Michelle on March 30, 2022 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks for that, Ann. Always amazing how cruel some people can be. A wonderful lemons to lemonade story!

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      Oof you know what thought… It took me twelve years to write about it, I just realized.

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks Michelle. It was sour for a minute but sweetened over time.
      Thanks for being here.

  19. Cathy on March 30, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    You’re a much better person then I am. I think you should get even with them all in a book! Yup, I hold a grudge….

    • Ann Garvin on March 30, 2022 at 4:54 pm

      Well, it took awhile–I haven’t let it entirely go. And I do have one grudge I may never let go and I even forgave my ex-husband of all things.
      xo Thanks for being here.

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 12:02 pm

      Ha! I was really mad inside!!

  20. Penny Ramirez on March 30, 2022 at 5:46 pm

    Wow. You were indeed very brave, and very polite. I’m sure I would have been arrested for mayhem and bodily harm! Book groups are tough – as a librarian, I’ve led a couple for work and it’s surely a challenge when folks just want to hear themselves talk.

    Thank you for sharing this experience, and for handling yourself with grace. I love the Tall Poppies group – have added so many books and authors to my TBR! Keep shining that positive light.

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      I bet as a librarian you definitely have seen your share of roasts. Thank you for being here. It’s the loveliest thing.

  21. Rose on March 30, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I always think of that when I see these “ladies” in town and now knowing their true colors move on. I regret not being there to show them the door for you. Something I know you were not brought up to do for yourself. You took the high road because that’s you.

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 12:00 pm

      ROSE. You would have gone after them. You would have stopped them in their tracks.
      That’s the kind of friend you are. Plus you picked up my pieces after.

  22. Dauna Easley on March 30, 2022 at 7:15 pm

    Their behavior was outrageous, but unfortunately I’m not surprised at all. There is one woman in my book club who hates every book I recommend and is quick to point this out as soon as the book club discussion begins. When her turn comes to select the material, she consistently recommends books for us to read which she has not read previously. ?? This baffles me. Again and again her choices are less than stellar selections, but I try to find something positive to say. I wouldn’t dream of having my book club read one of my books. If I were that brave, I think this gal would award me one of those Will Smith slaps.

    However, once a close friend invited her book club to read one of my books and invited me to attend the session. One lady said she didn’t want to read my book because the topic made her feel guilty. Other than her comment the discussion was open, revealing and poignant. The book encouraged most of the attendees to share personal experiences around the topic. It was an overall positive experience.

    Those who are committed enough to write and then brave enough to share their work deserve thoughtful comments. At a minimum writers have earned the right to an effort toward diplomacy. Those who don’t try to write are sometimes more confident than they should be. I would invite them to dip their toe into the profession.

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:59 am

      Dauna. Well said. It’s a profession that is so public that it feels as if a person isn’t attached to it. Like acting and movies. Still here we are trying to be authentic. Thank you for this. Glad you are here.

  23. Bill Gilliland on March 30, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    Another great story. And, just like all of your writing, authentic from word one!

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:57 am

      Should I tell the story of SNHU? Thank you Bill, it’s so great to hear from you. A

  24. Heather Bell Adams on March 30, 2022 at 8:16 pm

    Oh Ann. You know I love you and your books with all my heart. I am so sorry you went through this experience. I had a similar experience with a local book club that read my first novel, Maranatha Road. They apparently disliked Everything about the book, including the cover copy. To make matters worse, I had recently given up alcohol and this event was at a wine store… Anyway, I am so impressed with how you turned this experience into a positive one by creating Tall Poppies. You are amazing. Full stop. (2 kinds of hummus??!!)

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:55 am

      We do not spend nearly enough time together. Why is that? Can we fix that?

  25. Kate, aka Eveyln on March 31, 2022 at 12:39 am

    Amen and hallelujah! This is why I love you to pieces, Ann!

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:54 am

      Right back at you. xo

  26. Annie on March 31, 2022 at 2:27 am


    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:54 am

      Nobody Booms like you boom. xoxoox

  27. Denise on March 31, 2022 at 3:22 am

    I’m so sorry this happened.

    I had a similar experience, but mine was online at different stops on the book tour.

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 11:54 am

      Denise, So you had the experience first hand as well. It’s not great. Glad you are here with me now 🙂

  28. Susan Gromis on March 31, 2022 at 12:57 pm

    And THIS, folks, is why we love Ann Garvin and the Tall Poppies authors!! You are kind, hysterical, and human, like all of us who cannot express ourselves as well, you encompass it all: the humiliation, outrage (TWO Hummuses! ), second guessing our responses, but you come out SHINING. You ARE our sunshine and we love you for that!

  29. Yvette Marie Johnson on March 31, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    I get it. I’m too loud, too emotional, I care too much and too little. I over think and rethink. I’m tall, redhaired and couldn’t hide to save my life… so why do I find so many moments like these… when I want to dig a hole right on the spot and pat the dirt down hard atop my head and I want to duke it out but never have the right words to defend my own damn honor. But no, that kind of cool is not for me (us, maybe?). So, I am here. We are here and I love that you put it into words and stories so many of us can relate to. So… yeah… Thank you!

    • Ann Garvin on March 31, 2022 at 8:00 pm

      You are in the right place. I read somewhere when we think we are too much–would everyone rather us be basic. And, I’m all, no way. Thanks for being here with me,

  30. deanna on April 4, 2022 at 3:02 pm

    Oh Ann, what a horrible evening for you! This friend from Michigan would have been right there with your friend from Minnesota to take down the whole lot of them.
    Love you and so glad you continue to write!

    • Ann Garvin on April 5, 2022 at 4:44 pm

      You would have been there, as you always have been. MI, MN, ND always connected. xoxox A

  31. Susie on April 5, 2022 at 5:25 pm

    Well, I have to say that you are so brave and real in posting this account of one of the worst best days of your life. Thank goodness you have the ability to look back and smirk a bit at the memory of it. And to your critics, karma, if it is even in their vocabulary. xoxo

    • Ann Garvin on April 12, 2022 at 1:42 pm

      Well, it wasn’t a great day, that’s for sure. But, it was an education. lol. Thanks for your support and I do smirk a little. xoxox

  32. Patt Joslin-Bray on April 9, 2022 at 10:22 pm

    Dear Ann,

    This post and What’s the Difference Between Moving On and Letting Go both finger flicked me in the forehead and heart! I’ve been learning the writing craft since 2011, and yet only recently have I been brave enough to start putting my writing where my mouth is – sending in to contests, agents, etc. Why did it take so long? That big fat “I’m 65 years young, but what am I going to write that’s of interest to anyone but PJB’s ego?” reaction to other’s criticism.

    You helped me laugh at my own rage and disappointment after my beta readers sent me notes about things they didn’t like in my manuscript. You reminded me that handling things with grace and dignity, like not winning a contest or having a friend say “why the hell would you write a book about that?” is as much about me letting go of comparison analysis paralysis, and moving on to keep writing; because I’m never going to let the creative me die on the vine like I did in the past.

    So thank you for your insight and for creating Tall Poppies for us flowers who refuse to be cut down no matter how often the bloody infidels try to!!

    • Ann Garvin on April 12, 2022 at 1:44 pm

      Honestly, this is why I write. I’m so glad you found something here for you.
      But, yeah writing isn’t for the faint of heart. Just remember, I’m not always dignified.
      YOu are so welcome, Patt. I’m so glad you are here.

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