Sunday, February 27, 2011
My website is on the cover of my books, and I get anywhere from 10-20 e-mails a week from readers. These letters mean a lot to me. In fact, one of them arrived at just the right time and said just the right things when I was seriously considering junking THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. Without that letter, I probably wouldn't have finished the book.
I noted this in the Acknowledgments section of QUEEN and specifically invited readers to write to me. Since then, the average flow of letters has doubled from 5-10 a week to the present level.
Three days ago I got a letter from a woman who opened by saying how much she'd enjoyed parts of the two Poke Rafferty books she'd read and talked about how much talent I have. I was feeling tall, handsome, talented, and flattered when she opened her third paragraph by saying that she was sorry she'd be unable to read the other books in the series because of "sexist, misogynistic and politically Neanderthal" views I had expressed.
Well, that got my attention.
I backtracked through the books to find the passages to which she'd referred. (She didn't identify all of them, but she was quite clear about four things that had really pissed her off.) And here's what I discovered.
She was confusing a characters's opinions with the writer's opinions.
All the characters whose sentiments had peeved her so were either villains or were morally neutral in the scheme of the book and expressing sentiments that helped to establish who they were. The opinions were not expressed in the narrative. They were not given to characters who might logically be mistaken for the writer's proxies in my books, to the extent that I have any.
My first reaction was to see whether I could get this reader's Novel Reading License yanked. Novels hold up a mirror to the societies in which they're produced, and one of the ways they do that is by exploring the words and actions of those who live outside the polite boundaries every society establishes. Any novel that takes itself even halfway seriously will teem with objectionable characters.
The only valid defense I can find for her objection would be if I were, in fact, trying to have it both ways: pretending to condemn these views and actions while actually using them to titillate my readers. And, sure enough, she had titillation in mind: one of the things she objected to were the "pages and pages" devoted to prostitution in the two books she read.
Well, I defend my right to write entire volumes on prostitution. I'll write pimps, johns, tricks, madams, whole brothels. I'll write psychopathic Blackhawk operatives and mass murderers, sadists and corrupt cops, card cheats, sex addicts, merchants who misrepresent the age of cheese, consumers who rip the DO NOT REMOVE tags from mattresses, and anyone else I can think of. And I'll check once in a while as I write them to make sure I know which way is North on the book's moral compass, and if it's where I thought it was, I'll keep writing.
Several people wrote to tell me that they couldn't finish A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART because of the violence done to children. I understand that, and in that book I agonized over how to present it. I wound up never showing it directly: it was either filtered through Poke's (revolted) consciousness as he viewed it, or told by the victims who survived it. Still, I can understand not wanting to read about it. I can even sympathize with it.
But I can't sympathize with the person who reviewed it on Amazon and called it "child pornography," nor can I sympathize with the woman who can't tell the difference between a character's conviction and the convictions of the book's writer. In spite of both of them, I'll pretty much go wherever I want to go, morally speaking, as long as I'm comfortable with my reasons for going there.
Some readers, I guess I just don't need.
at 1:02 AM