I’ve talked a lot about getting used to rejection. But, most of the time I am referring to the rejection letters sent by editors who don’t want to publish your work. I’ve always found that rejection from editors is easy for me to accept. I have always braced myself to hear “No” from an editor.
On the other hand, I hadn’t prepared myself for rejection from readers. Sure, I had heard about it from other authors. Sometimes readers won’t like what you do. They won’t like what you write. They just won’t enjoy the stories you have to tell. Rejection makes it sound harsher than that. I’m certain people have read my stories and not liked them.
But the other day I got my first real hate email. I use the term hate, because it wasn’t my story they hated, it was one aspect. A small part of the story really. Truthfully, I hadn’t even given much thought to the element of the story. It was just there.
This person wrote me an email, roughly three pages long, insulting me because one of the main characters in Dissolution of Peace is a homosexual. If you haven’t read the book, you might not know what I am talking about. But one of the main characters discovers she is a lesbian through the course of the novel. The email went on to call me the “devil” and that I was a “demon” at several points. She clearly read the whole book, as she referenced parts from throughout the novel, but she just wasn’t happy it included a lesbian couple. She told me, “I can’t believe you ruined this excellent story by putting homosexuals into it.” and “You could have just as easily made one of those characters male and kept the book clean.” and “You just used this story to push your pro gay agenda.”
Frankly, the email shocked me. It shocked me for several reasons. First, I never gave a second thought to Janice’s relationship with Willard. Second, I just never had anyone so upset with something I had wrote. And the best part, she never even mentioned the scene in which Carlson walked in on Willard and Janice during sex.
Typically I don’t respond to negative comments about my work, but since many will see this blog as a form of response, I must say a few things. First, I am very happy to hear that this person thought my story was “excellent”. Several times she told me how great the book was, in between the other points she had to make.
I have no “pro gay agenda”. I am not opposed to homosexual relationships, and I am not opposed to gay marriage. But, Dissolution of Peace is not about that. If you find a “pro gay” message in that book, well, each reader will see the message that calls to them.
Finally, I couldn’t have made Willard or Janice a male character, because that is not who they are. Writer’s know that their characters become real people. Janice became who she became, regardless of what I wanted (or didn’t want) her to be. I couldn’t have changed her any more than I could change the person who emailed me..
As a writer, you may never want to put a homosexual person in your stories simply to play it safe. But where do you draw the line? Will you never have any discussion or mention of politics? What about feminism, social commentary, or even humor? If you sterilize your writing to try to keep everyone happy, you will wind up with a story that few will want to read. Even if you can write an excellent story that walks the line and avoids hot button issues, someone won’t like it because of your style, plot, or for no real reason at all. We are a vast and diverse world. It is a beautiful thing. But is also means that eventually someone will read something you’ve written and simply not like it.
Should you go out of your way to offend? No. Shock value rarely works either. Write the story you want to write; with the characters, world, and plot that you want. Writers want people to enjoy their stories. But not everyone will. You just can’t please everyone. Don’t try to. Just write the story you want to tell and let the chips fall where they may.
And for the readers out there, please understand something about writers. To build worlds and create believable elements we must include people of all types regardless of our personal beliefs. Writers have to include murders, corrupt people, evil people, and bigots in our worlds. Why? These people exist and will likely exist for all time. I don’t condone murder, but the antagonist of Dissolution of Peace is a killer. A writer might write a racist character, that doesn’t mean the writer has an “agenda” against a particular race. Most readers know this, and see a story for what it means to them.
I appreciate the readers, and the feedback. Even the negative feedback helps me as a writer (even the feedback I don’t agree with). But, I just have to learn that I can’t please everyone.