That time I responded to an email that made me mad...
I am very good at keeping my mouth shut. I don't respond to reviews except with thanks. I don't fire back at nasty emails from readers. (Except the homophobic ones, but those are really quite rare, thank goodness.)
Readers will say anything to me. I get emails from people who didn't like the direction I've taken a particular book. It wasn't the story they wanted to read, and they want me to know it. I've gotten mail from readers demanding to know why I won't write another book about their favorite character(s.) Those emails are easy to brush aside.
But there's one kind that always gets under my skin. Once in a while I get a letter which tells me that my brand of feminism isn't enough. I got one of those yesterday, and was astonished by this person's particular beef. It was a long email filled with historical citations of female success stories on which I might have based my character.
What probably made me snap was its tone of: dontcha know anything, youngster?
And, oh, the irony! Now I know how my kids feel when I invoke their lack of experience. Not good.
I should have deleted the message and poured myself a glass of wine. But instead I wrote a polite (yet very firm) argument. That bit of plot which had so offended my reader wasn't actually in the book! It didn't even happen. I helpfully supplied my version of events. Yes?
Here's what's wrong with that solution: when she read the book, she read it differently.
What I most love about novel writing is its linearity. I produce a thin string of text that would stretch for about a half mile, if you stretched it out on my country road. (I'm basing this math on the Rookie Move paperback, because it's handy.)
I take the big, loud story in my brain and spin it down like Sleeping Beauty into a thin little black and white word-strand. You pick it up, unfurl the strand inside your mind, and play it at whatever speed, in whatever textures and nuances your brain gives you.
And it's yours. Once I hit "publish" I no longer get a say. That book has to stand on its own, and you will either like it or not. Maybe your impressions of the book are colored by your day at work, or whether you had a good dinner before you read it. It's out of my hands.
My reader didn't like the way this character played out for her. She wanted to yell at me about it. I should have just smiled and nodded.
Next time, I will.