Walking the tightrope
There’s a tightrope every author walks these days, whether they admit it or not. It’s not new. It is probably as old as that first storyteller sitting around the fire entertaining the family or tribe. It is that line between entertainment and message and how much of one spoils the other. It is an issue that has taken on a life of its own of late as some people tell us we have to have a checklist of characters in our work so that everyone who might read it feels included. Others tell us that if you aren’t of the same sex/race/gender identification/whatever as your main characters, you can’t write the story. Then some tell us we shouldn’t read an entire group of authors — for a year or forever — because they are male or for some other reason.
But, as I said, that’s nothing new. It has just taken on a life of its own in this day of instant communication. The internet has given us all a voice and some are more circumspect about what they say, where they say it and how it might impact not only those they are attacking but others as well.
The result of this is that the balance pole writers used to have as they crossed the crevice on the tightrope has been removed. We are being forced to do our best Wallenda Family imitation and, I’ll tell you here and now, it isn’t easy and there are times when you ask yourself if it is worth it. Fortunately, for myself at least, when I get to that point, someone shows up with a PM on Facebook or through email to ask when my next book is coming out because they enjoy my work.
And yet the uncertainty lingers.
I ran into this tightrope without knowing it when I wrote Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1). I found some of those who read the book, a very small minority, had issues with it because the main character. Not because Ashlyn Shaw was a Marine. Not even because she was female but because she was a female Marine in battle. These readers’ concerns would have had merit if the book was set today and on this planet. But the novel is set far away from Earth and at a time in the distant future. Powered battle armor assists every Marine, as do implants that enhance the Marines. But all they saw was a woman in combat and they instantly thought I was trying to signal some sort of message.
I wasn’t. Far from it, in fact. I was simply writing the story that had come to me. Fortunately, when I spoke with those who had the issue about the differences between combat now and in the book, most admitted they had not thought about the differences between combat now and combat in the future. With that in mind, they reconsidered their objections to the book.
This isn’t the fault of readers. At least not as far as I’m concerned. It is the fault of certain publishers and authors who have decided it is their job to educate the reading public by hitting them over the head with message instead of subtly weaving their message into the story. As an author, we shouldn’t have to worry about successfully completing the checklist of characters and issues covered in our books for those books to be considered readable. Yes, we can do all that and make certain people in our industry happy but, if the book doesn’t entertain, what’s the point? A boring book, a book that makes readers feel they are being lectured to, won’t sell. As an indie author, that is the curse of death. As a traditionally published author, it might take a bit longer but, sooner or later, the publisher will cut you loose because you aren’t making them money.
The fallout is that now readers flinch at the first sign of what might be a message, whether it is or not. That is a shame because they see what looks like a signal from the author and quit reading right there. How many good books are missed as a result?
Is such a response reasonable? I don’t know. I know I’ve been guilty of it and have realized it only after others I respect and who share a similar taste in reading to me have said I really needed to give a book a second chance. When I have, I’ve realized I did the author a disservice by not reading further to see if what I thought was a trigger was merely a plot device or, in one particular case, a red herring.
In another, I initially put the book down because I did think it was pushing a Feminist agenda. Then others I know read it and started talking about it in ways that made me wonder if I had misjudged. So I went back day before yesterday and started reading it again. When I did, I fully expected to react exactly as I had the first time. To my surprise, I didn’t. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe I was in a different head space than I had been the first time I tried. Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the middle of trying to write a book. Whatever it was, as I read, I knew I had been wrong.
The book wasn’t promoting some Feminist agenda. It wasn’t a “sisters, we must unite against the evil men” sort of book. It was, in fact, a Regency in space.
Oh, I can see how some people could think differently because, at first glance, I did as well. But all this book actually did was take the same basic plot elements we have seen time and time again — and there is nothing wrong with that because there are no new plots. What is new is how the author deals with those point — and switched the sexes out. It isn’t the first time it has been done, nor will it be the last.
If the book at been about the male spacer who had been estranged from his family for years being called home by the dowager mother to do his duty and rescue the ditzy younger sister who had wound up getting herself kidnapped, I wouldn’t have blinked twice the first time I tried to read the book. After all, I’ve read that sort of plot time and time and time again. But this time, it was the daughter who was the spacer and estranged from her family. Her proud father — is he sexist? Probably, but he read more as someone used to being in control and now isn’t and he is reacting badly to his new situation. — calls her home and has to admit, much to his chagrin, that her brother is not only a fool but has managed to get himself kidnapped and now daddy dearest needs the renegade daughter to do her duty to her family and try to rescue her brother.
Same plot, just different genders.
And, again, not new.
It is just that, in this day and age when we are being hit over the head with message fiction and being told we need it so we will learn to be better people, a lot of readers are gun shy. They see something that might not be there simply because they have been hit in the head too many times. As I said, I’ve been guilty of it. Now I need to remember what that feels like as a writer and try to give the author a chance, especially if that author is being published by a house I trust.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal the last 24 hours or so. How do we avoid this pitfall some in traditional publishing have put in our path? I’m not sure. All I do know is I have to remember that it is a tightrope but there is solid land on the other side of crevice and I can and will make it there. So, too, will I as a reader. I just have to step carefully, keep my eyes and ears open and remember not to close my mind.
And hope a great big gust of wind doesn’t come along and blow me off.
To help anchor against that wind, I will keep writing and, sigh, keep promoting my work. Yes, sigh. I suck at the self-promotion bit. But Sarah and the others tell me I have to do it so, here it is.
Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) is currently available for pre-order. Publication date is April 18th.
War isn’t civilized and never will be, not when there are those willing to do whatever is necessary to win. That is a lesson Col. Ashlyn Shaw learned the hard way. Now she and those under her command fight an enemy determined to destroy their home world. Worse, an enemy lurks in the shadows, manipulating friend and foe alike.
Can Ashlyn hold true to herself and the values of her beloved Corps in the face of betrayal and loss? Will honor rise from the ashes of false promises and broken faith? Ashlyn and the Devil Dogs are determined to see that it does, no matter what the cost.
The one thing Lt. Mackenzie Santos had always been able to count on was the law. But that was before she started turning furry. Now she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy to keep the truth from the public-at-large. She knows they aren’t ready to learn that monsters are real and they might be living next door.
If that isn’t enough, trouble is brewing among the shapeshifters. The power struggle has already resulted in the kidnapping and near fatal injury of several of Mac’s closest friends. She is now in the middle of what could quickly turn into a civil war, one that would be disastrous for all of them.
What she wouldn’t give to have a simple murder case to investigate and a life that didn’t include people who wanted nothing more than to add her death to the many they were already responsible for.
For a change of pace, if you enjoy a little bit of romance with your suspense, or a little bit of suspense with your romance, check it outSlay Bells Ring.
Fifteen years ago, Juliana Grissom left Mossy Creek in her rear view mirror. She swore then she would never return for more than a day or two at a time. But even the best laid plans can go awry, something she knew all too well, especially when her family was involved.
Now she’s back and her family expects her to find some way to clear her mother of murder charges. Complicating her life even further is Sam Caldwell, the man she never got over. Now it seems everyone in town is determined to find a way to keep her there, whether she wants to stay or not.
Bodies are dropping. Gossip is flying and Juliana knows time is running out. After all, holidays can be murder in Mossy Creek.