Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Change

I've done this once before: written a blog post in response to a 1-star Amazon review accusing me of being a racist. (You can read the other one here, if you missed it the first time.)

For the record, it isn't the 1-star review that bothers me. Not that I aspire to them, but people are entitled to their opinions, and anyway, I'm in good company. Check the Amazon listing for any bestselling book out there, new or old, and you'll find a few 1-star reviews. Books that are a hell of a lot better written than mine, too.

Pride and Prejudice, anyone?

But this isn't about that. It isn't even about the racism-accusation, although for the record - again - I'm not a closet racist looking for an outlet for my prejudices. I wrote about racism because I think it's wrong, not because I think it's A-OK.

What it comes down to, is change.

See, A Cutthroat Business isn't the only one of my books that has hit some people the wrong way. Savannah isn't my only character - my only heroine - with flaws. Deep flaws. Flaws that are neither endearing nor pretty.

Take Fortune's Hero, for instance. Doctor Elsa Brandeis works as an assistant to Doctor Marcus Sterling, head of the medical team in the prison colony on the moon Marica-3. Or to put it more bluntly, Elsa is the assistant to the main torturer, since the whole point of the medical team is to extract information from the prisoners.

Elsa has tortured Quinn to death more than once, and brought him back to life each time, only so she could do it again.

That's a hell of a thing to come back from.

A name that's mentioned frequently in Fortune's Hero is Josie. She never shows up in the book, but she's a presence nonetheless. Josie was Quinn's girlfriend before the book started, and Josie is the reason Quinn - and the rest of his crew - are in prison in the first place. She betrayed them. She seduced Quinn and charmed the rest of his crew. She traveled with them for six months. She was one of them. They trusted her. 

And she sold them to the bad guys.

In book 2, Fortune's Honor, Josie comes back. And her redemption isn't any easier than Elsa's. These are things that it's hard to overcome. Both for the person having to forgive, and for the person who committed the transgression. Sometimes I wonder if it isn't easier for the sinned against to forgive, than it is for the sinner to forgive him- or herself.

But I digress. We were talking about flawed heroines.

Savannah. Elsa. Josie.

And Kaylee Carter. Kaylee is the main character in Friends with Benefits, a short little contemporary romance that'll probably be released at some point this year.

The first thing Kaylee does in Friends with Benefits, is sleep with Gil Norris, heir to the Norris fortune. He's handsome, he's wealthy, he's smarmy, and she sleeps with him.

I've been told it would make Kaylee more sympathetic if I did a little strategic rewriting and made her less of a gold-digger. And maybe that's true. But my goal isn't making Kaylee sympathetic. My goal is to show Kaylee change. If she doesn't sleep with the wrong guy for all the wrong reasons at the beginning of the book, how can she learn to appreciate the hero for all his stellar qualities by the end?

Could I have written these books differently?

Sure.

I could have made Fake Gil slip Kaylee a roofie so she wasn't in control of what she was doing, and voila: instant victim. Instant sympathy.

Elsa could have been a Florence Nightingale type, bravely putting herself out there on the edge of the galaxy for unselfish reasons.

Josie could have been more sinned against than sinning, and Savannah could have been a Southern Belle with no racial prejudices or preconceptions whatsoever.

I could have created worlds where there's no racism, no torture, and where no girl ever sleeps with a guy - or betrays him - for money. A world where everyone's character flaws are charming and quirky and cute.

Nothing wrong with that. People have written books like that. People have read them and liked them. It's a hell of a lot easier to sympathize with a sympathetic character, after all.

I could have done it, but I didn't. I didn't want to short-change my characters. I didn't want to truncate their journey or stunt their growth. I wanted them to become all that they could be.

At the end of Close to Home, after four books of back and forth, push and pull, doubt and fear and guilt and pain, when Savannah finally stands up - figuratively speaking - and tells her mother and anyone else who'll listen, "I love him and I don't care who knows it," it's a bigger victory because of where she came from. Because of what she had to go through to get to that point.

If there's nothing much to overcome, the journey is short and simple, and the change is quick and easy.

But when there are obstacles in the path, and the journey starts at the bottom of the well, not merely the bottom of the mountain, then the victory isn't only sweet, it's triumphant.

I want to write about triumphant victories. About difficult journeys and amazing change. And to do that, sometimes it's necessary to start with a character who's less than perfect. Who's flawed. Unsympathetic. Hard to love. And at the bottom of the well.

And if that means I offend people some of the time, and my books get a few 1-star reviews from people who prefer to read about perfect, sympathetic characters, then I guess it's worth it.


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8 comments:

justpassingthrough said...

Well said -- but then, you're an author! Of course it is! I totally agree with you. And if some people are just narrow minded enough to not look beyond their preconceptions, then it is NO fault of yours. For every small minded person, I'm betting you have encountered numerous encouragers who get you!

I get you! And I will read everything you write!!!!!

kourtneyheintz said...

I'm scratching my head at the accusation of you being a racist. You write realistic characters. Some have prejudices. Some are racist. There are also open minded-characters.

Conflict is the life blood of a good story. And your characters always have lots of conflict because they come from all walks of life and have different experiences coloring their perceptions of things.

marysuttonauthor.com said...

I hear you.

I took my MCRW novella contest entry to a critique last fall. There were several comments, but one was that they didn't like the heroine very much. "Too angry," they said. She's a jilted bride who discovered her finance was sleeping with one of her bridesmaids. I thik she deserves to be angry. But several people said I'd make her more sympathetic if I portrayed her more hurt than angry.

But that's not what I want. This character needs to get past her anger and learn that some guys (like the hero) are worth laying your heart out and trusting.

So I still have to go back and make some changes, but I don't think I'm going to make her "less angry" - at least not at first. Because as you said, that deprives the character of real growth and makes the change less of a Big Thing - and that's not fair to the character or the reader.

Avery Flynn said...

"I want to write about triumphant victories." Good because I love to read those stories.

Dru said...

I love your work and I'm glad you write what you want and how you want it to be.

Peachy1960 said...

I applaud you! I think you do a great job with your writing and totally understand your characters and the story you are telling. I have to wonder where this reviewer is from? I can understand if they are not familiar with life in the south, how they not understand the story you are telling. Having lived in the south for many years, I understand exactly what you're saying in your books and really enjoy seeing how the characters grow and evolve. I especially enjoyed seeing Savannah's character in the Cutthroat series grow and her mind open as she gets to know Rafe better. She moves past the conceptions she's raised with to see him as a good man and not just a mixed race boy from the wrong side of the tracks. I believe it was in book 3 where Savannah is in Rafe's old room in the trailer in the bog and is looking at the pinup on the wall of the blonde girl and begins thinking about him being involved with Elspeth and Yvonne and how all are white and maybe Rafe doesn't see himself as a black man. That is HUGE! It's great to see Savannah's character grow like that. No way would I say you are racist. Keep writing the words you write. Your stories are AWESOME!

Lucinda Nelson said...

Oh, sweetie, don't let it get to ya. Nobody, but nobody grew in a more Southerny-Southern place and time than me, and I wasn't at all offended by any of the Cutthroat books. In fact, you know I like 'em pretty good. I think that many people are just incredibly self-consciously PC. They may themselves be a teeny bit racist,so go to great lengths to find things to criticize to make themselves feel better. We all know it's out there. As Bill Maher says about the (particularly) right wings disrespect of the President, "Now, what is it about Obama that's different from other Presidents? Hmmmm, what could it be...."

Jenna said...

Thanks, y'all! I'm so happy to have readers like you, who not only read and love my books, but who cheer me up - and on - when I need it! xoxo