At some point in your career, you may write something that offends. That’s the nature of the job. But don’t feel that you must choose the safe course for fear of running aground. The beauty of fiction is that we can explore dark themes to our heart’s content — without anyone ever getting hurt for real. We can think about scenarios that trouble us without real casualties.
I don’t know about other authors, but I don’t impregnate my work with my agenda: political, religious, or otherwise. When I write something, I do it because it suits my world and my characters. Depending on their age, gender, and upbringing, they can’t always know what I do. Their views can’t (and shouldn’t) reflect mine, all the time. Plus, if my characters do bad things, they can learn from them. I find it’s far more moving and powerful to write about someone climbing out of a dark hole than for that character never to fall.
It can be upsetting when people say things about you and you can’t rebut. In fact, you’re not supposed to acknowledge that detractors exist.. because you, as the author, have all the power. Yet I have a colleague who suffered through such a hate campaign, based on a cute middle grade book she wrote, that she cried pretty much every time she checked her email. What did she do that was so terrible? She wrote a book. Whether someone likes a book or not, this kind of online harassment is over the line. I have another friend who has a cyber stalker, who started as a reader. The things she’s received as a result of this obsession are rather terrifying.
So what do you do when a reader extrapolates erroneous personal data, based on what you’ve written? It can be bad if they make judgments about what kind of person you must be, and just make comments online. But sometimes, as above, they take it a step further. And what’s your recourse? Some authors will put people in their books in retaliation. Obviously, I don’t think that’s a good idea for so many reasons. First, it’s unprofessional. Second, it cannot serve the story, which is the writer’s foremost responsibility. I don’t advocate that by any means, but what’s left? In some cases, it makes sense to report the unwanted contact with the authorities, but they’re not always talking directly to you. Sometimes it’s more like libel.
I wish I had the answers. But all I can do is open the topic for discussion. What do you think?
Photo courtesy Flickr’s *Jeffrey*