Did I Alienate a Reader?

November 7, 2009

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Yes.  I most certainly did alienate a reader.  I’ll refer to the reader as Reader X.

Reader X has been one of my my loyal readers.  Reader X and I had established a dialogue over email, and I had enjoyed the conversations we had shared.  However, my recent story The Cell Window struck a rather sour chord with Reader X.  Reader X considered the story to be “smut” and took me to task for making the female characters clueless rather than strong.

Those of you who have read the story can likely figure out why the female characters were “clueless”.  This wasn’t a character flaw on their part, but simply an effect of the plot.  Anyone in their situation would been clueless.  As for the characters not being stronger – if they had been stronger, this would have critically wounded the setup to the story’s ending.  The ending of the story was one of the first pieces of the story that I wrote, so I really wanted to use it.

Was the story smut?  I personally don’t think so – nor do a handful of female readers I queried.  While the content was a bit disturbing, they didn’t feel that it was any more disturbing than the typical episode of Law & Order.  Certainly there was content that was sexual in nature.  It would have been difficult to write a story with a similar plot without including some content of this type.

Does the inclusion of sexual content mean that a book is rubbish and should be tossed aside?  I certainly hope not.  If this was the case, we would lose fine books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and John Grisham’s A Time To Kill.  (Don’t remember the sexual content in those books?  Grab a copy and re-read it!)  We would also be forced to cast aside the works of modern masters such as Lawrence Block and John Sandford.  Certainly, this would be a crime against literature.

Although I write fiction on a wide range of topics and using a variety of tones, I strive to become a writer of crime fiction.  It has been suggested that I am stronger with my humor writing than with crime.  This is almost certainly true – my humor pieces flow off the keyboard nearly as fast as I can write, whereas the crime stories take considerably more thought.  Nonetheless, crime fiction is what I enjoy, and it is where I would like to make my mark as a writer.

As an aspiring crime writer, I will often find myself writing passages that make a segment of my readership uncomfortable.  While I would hope all of my writing would appeal to everyone, I know that this will not be the case.  Certainly, on occasion, I will upset someone with my writing.  While I do not go out of my way to offend, I also do not go out of my way to ensure that my work doesn’t have offensive rough edges.  A key component of crime fiction is that it does have rough edges.  To refine my stories so that they were too smooth to possible offend anyone would be to subvert the genre.

And that is something I will not do.

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