I had every intention of kicking off our new Soapboxing feature with a different post but this seemed a lot more timely in the wake of the brouhaha around the final Sookie Stackhouse novel. I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about but here's the Coles Notes version for those of you who have managed to avoid it: Someone in Germany got their hands on a copy of DEAD EVER AFTER early and didn't like it. S/he then proceeded to post spoilers about who Sookie ends up with and, I believe, even copied some of the text out. Now, I haven't gone looking to find out what was actually shared because I don't want it to be spoiled (I'll find out once my copy arrives in the mail) but the furor around this really got me thinking:
What rights do we have as readers? What kind of relationships should we have with authors?
I'm going to say right off the bat, readers DO NOT have the right to dictate to authors. We have the right to buy -- or not buy -- a book. (And by book I mean book/novella/novellette/etc. Pretty much any work of fiction). We have the right to read -- or not read -- a book. We have the right to our opinions about what happens in a book and the right to share those opinions, hopefully not by flaming the author, but freedom of speech is a right many of us have and exercise. But you can't legitimately argue that readers should decide how a story goes. If that's what you're looking for, you either need to invest in some Choose Your Own Adventure books or become an author yourself because there is no way that readers should be able to command authors or make big (or small) decisions about storylines. As readers, our primary job is to read the book. As authors, writers are supposed to create stories and can spend months or years crafting something that we spend a few hours reading. There's no contract that says an author has to write a book everyone loves. There's no law that says writing a book should be based on collective opinion. Unless you're the one writing the book, you don't get to choose how things go. As a reader, you're there for the ride.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when I've really disliked decisions that have been made by authors. The Sookie Stackhouse books have gone downhill for me and I definitely think that the early books in the series are better than the last two or three. And that's my right. I am entitled to this opinion, just like someone else can think that DEADLOCKED is the bee's knees and shout that from the skies. I'm allowed to say that I think that Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires books went downhill once she resurrected Ethan. But this doesn't give me license to spew hate at the author, or post gigantic spoilers, or pirate books. All it means is I get to offer my two cents on the blog or to my friends or almost anywhere else and, as a decent human being, I should be doing it in a constructive way. And sometimes things that I really don't like end up being great for a series. I was so brokenhearted when Kelley Armstrong switched her narrator from Elena to Paige in her Otherworld series. After two books, all I wanted was more Elena and Paige was such a different character that I was totally bummed out by DIME STORE MAGIC. But you know what? Having revolving narrators made the series more interesting because you see so much more of the universe. And while the Elena-narrated stories are my favourites, I can understand why, as an author, Armstrong made this creative decision, and appreciate what it gives me as a reader.
On some levels, this all boils down to respect, freedom, and decency. If I spent a year or more working on something and then hundreds of strangers decided it was okay to tell me all the reasons why they hate me and my work, I'd be hurt, especially given the kind of language people sometimes use in these diatribes. And a lot of people turn their dislike about a plot point or a character into flat-out hatred for an author and it can get ugly. (Sidebar: Authors can also get ugly with their readers so I'm not saying that this is a one-way street. Decency and respect go both ways.)
If you go to Charlaine Harris' Facebook page, for example, you'll see she posts a response to the news about spoilers and even opens up the thread for positive and negative comments. She is one classy lady. I don't think I'd be this open or brave:
What I didn't copy were the 1,600+ comments mostly because of privacy and space but also because there are some damn hateful things in there. It's been said before but I'm saying it again: the Internet can bring out the worst in people because of the anonymity it provides. I'm pretty sure that most of the people on this thread wouldn't walk up to Charlaine Harris and say these extreme things to her face.At least I hope not. I heard that Jennifer Estep was receptive to some bloggers at RT discussing why they don't like Owen with her, which is very cool of her, but I don't think she should change the overall story arcs she has planned just because some people don't like Owen anymore. I also assume that these bloggers were voicing an opinion, not throwing insults or trying to get Estep to change her planned course of action. (I wasn't there so I can't say for sure but I'm a big fan of some of the people involved in that discussion and I can't imagine them being hateful.) Savvy authors go into things knowing that not everyone is going to love everything about their books but no one should be on the receiving end of the kind of vitriolic stuff I've seen lately online, not just around DEAD EVER AFTER but also about other books.
It's your right as a reader to break up with a series. It's your right as a reader to voice your thoughts. It's not your right as a reader to throw common decency out the window because one fictional characters ends up with "the wrong" fictional boyfriend. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the end of the world. No matter how attached you are to a character, life goes on. You can always imagine them ending up differently if it bothers you that much. Many an individual has done just that with fan fiction.
If artists listened to all of the haters in the world, we probably wouldn't have all the great works of art, music, and literature that exist today. I'm not saying the Sookie Stackhouse books are on the same level as a Picasso but I am saying this: writing is a creative pursuit and it's the nature of creative works not to appeal to everyone. Art in all its forms is subjective and not liking something doesn't mean you should slander another human being. Readers should read. Readers should feel so passionately about a book or a character that they get emotionally invested. That's how you know an author has done a great job. Readers should feel free to have their say and share their feelings about a story. Readers should not try to tell an author what to do or rage at an author because they don't like how a story is going.
What do you think? I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Please share in the comments!
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