Some of you may be aware we had a bit of a tangle on the Dark In Death Discussion thread last week. A reader had strong (very) objections to the word skank as used to describe women Eve and Peabody warned about possible danger.
I don’t want to get more specific on the plot itself as some of you may not have read the book.
However, I will say, in this case, one of the women the reader sees in interview is wearing cock and ball earrings. The other has Sexy Bitch tattooed over her well-displayed chest. They are, basically, party girl groupies looking for the next score–sex, drugs, action. Whatever.
Peabody uses the term.
The reader had many objections–terrible to denigrate women (such terms are NEVER used to describe men)–cops would never use such terms (she included skirt and sidepiece in this claim) as they would be ‘raked over the coals’ for doing so. And it was her opinion as I wrote the book, I am therefore sexist and should correct this in the future.
Well, bullshit on all counts.
First, as I pointed out–pretty politely at first–I am not my characters nor are they me. And cop talk is cop talk. I also reminded her that a recurring sub-character is nicknamed Dickhead.
Not good enough–even when a couple of other posters who have some experience working or being around cops explained that yeah, cops talk to other cops in often harsh shorthand.
The reader escalated, got very personal and rude–not only to me at the end, but to other posters–until Laura had to step in, tell her she’d crossed all kinds of lines, and banned her.
First, I’ll say Laura doesn’t take banning a reader lightly. It has to be extreme, and this was.
It occurred to me during this incident, that the particular reader obviously didn’t get one of the main points of the book–from the perspective of the character whose books are being used to plot. murders.
This is fiction. This is a story. We who write try very hard to craft entertaining stories with compelling, interesting characters. We’re not writing about ourselves when we write fiction, and the actions, dialog, internalization, motivations of those characters must fit those characters. Not those of the person writing the story.
Just to take Eve Dallas as an example:
I love to shop; she hates it. She drinks gallons of coffee; I don’t drink it at all. She has a cat; I have dogs. Shoes for her are something you walk in. For me, shoes are . . . pretty much everything. I’ve never been in a physical fight–and hope that continues.
I could go on and on.
Part of the fun of writing is creating people, and the writer may have little in common with those people. Their worldviews may or may not mesh. Their backgrounds are very unlikely to.
Some readers may project the writer into the character, but that doesn’t make it true.
Moreover, it’s always struck me as very strange that certain readers will ask, insist even demand that I write what they want, or stop writing what they don’t.
You must stop using the word fuck! People don’t talk that way.
First do you live in the actual world? Second I’ll use whatever word I like as you’re not the boss of me. And more to the point, if my characters use this very versatile word, it’s because THEY’RE using it.
Your books have too much sex. Your books need more sex.
My books have the amount of sex that I, as the writer, feels suits the story and the characters having sex.
You need to go back to writing nice, sweet romance.
No. I need to write what I’m driven to write.
I’m sending you this religious pamphlet because you use the name of the Lord in vain, and I’m worried about your immortal soul.
Thank you for the thought, and maybe you shouldn’t read my books.
You write about witchcraft so I believe you’ve embraced Satan.
(Yes, all the above are true stories.)
Does a reader honestly believe I’m going to read one of these posts, emails, letters and say: OH! Sue in Tulsa doesn’t want any swearing in my books. No more swearing for my characters!
Or I won’t write about fictional witches because I’m suddenly afraid I’ve invited Satan into my life?
These readers don’t know me, and yet feel perfectly righteous about telling me I’m immoral or sexist or an animal hater (killed a fictional cat in a book once) or whatever their personal values dictate.
Laura gets most of this–and recently got an all-caps rant on my language, which included a slam at Diana Gabledon for using fuck in her books. Which the raging reader claimed hadn’t been invented by the time of Outlander (which she called Highlander in the screed). Well, as Laura said, she supposed the reader had never read Chaucer whose work well precedes the Jacobite Rebellion.
Readers don’t get to dictate. They don’t get a vote. They have tremendous power–to buy or not, to read or not. The reader who provided the springboard for this blog claimed that since she’d read the book, she had the right to critique it, and obviously all I wanted was constant praise.
Well, I’d rather get praised than slammed. Human here. Yet over three decades I’ve somehow managed to shoulder mixed or poor reviews, or handle readers’ individual complaints.
However, reading the book doesn’t give anyone the right to hurl personal insults at the writer of the book. That’s not a critique on the work.
Let me add that the fall back–you just want constant praise–is the often-used blast that usually comes when the person’s losing an argument.
It should be a clue when a reader is alone in an opinion in a group of other readers, when reasonable responses have been given. Instead of buying the clue, this type of person then hurls those insults at everyone.
And honestly, when one claims I’m sexist and need to knock it off because a cop character in a story uses the term to describe women whom I deliberately crafted to earn the designation, I tend to believe that particular reader is a little scary.
I know perfectly well some will read this and be insulted–claim I’m disrespectful to readers. But I don’t push readers into one lump. You are not the Borg. And some individuals who happen to read need to learn to separate reality from fiction. And need to understand my world–personally and professionally–doesn’t revolve around their demands.
To end this on a happier note, I spent yesterday in the kitchen (catch Eve doing that!). I made a couple of rounds of sour dough bread, which I’ll freeze as I made a pretty amazing beef stew with dumplings.
Leftovers tonight! So my afternoon will include reading someone else’s book.
Note from Laura: As Department Head of Answering Letters, I see a lot of fascinating messages. There are the ones that move — loving stories about readers and the people in their live, for example the widower who reads the In Deaths because Eve reminds him of his wife, or the people who share how reading brought them closer to family members, or how just reading one of Nora/JD’s titled helped a reader out of a morass of depression because she saw a woman of strength in that book.
As the Department Head of Reading Complaints, I see all the examples Nora listed above. With a few extra thrown in like “I’ll show you! I’ll borrow your books from the library!!!” As a daughter of a librarian, sales to libraries are golden for an author so I just smile and wish them well. Recently, a woman complained on behalf of herself, her mother, her sister, their hairdresser and other assorted people (many of these come in from the group spokesperson) about Year One and how they just didn’t like it and all agree Nora should write happier books. When I replied that maybe they’ve just outgrown Nora and should stop reading her for a while she came back with “You’re telling me NOT to buy Nora’s books???” Well, yes. Borrow them, give yourself a break. How does it serve anyone’s purpose for you to set yourself up to be miserable?
I’ve taken to charting when the standard complaints come in. Around a full moons I see a rise in language complaints. There are two full moons this month, so I’m extra braced.
Recently there’s been an uptick in emails like this one: “Please stop showing so much of your boobs on morning television. My 12 year old son is in the room and he doesn’t need to see it.”
She meant to write to Norah O’Donnell of CBS The Morning. But I had a good laugh thinking of our Nora flashing the nation on morning TV. And then I sent a correction.