I love talking to people who read my novels. After all, I’m a reader myself, and I love talking to other writers about their books, their characters, the worlds they create, and the writer’s life.
But occasionally readers’ questions become requests, or demands, or complaints. Ask George R.R. Martin. His readers’ vitriolic demands to hurry up and finish A Dance with Dragons prompted Neil Gaiman to write “Entitlement Issues,” the essay better known as, “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.”
Authors who write series are constantly asked: When will the next book be published? The answer isn’t always simple. If it’s been a while since a series book came out, don’t assume the author is lazy, or distracted, or has stopped caring about the series. Often the reason relates to a publisher’s schedule. Sometimes the reason is financial as well as artistic. When readers ask Laurie R. King why she hasn’t yet written another Kate Martinelli novel, she says: “Because you aren’t buying enough of them.”
Writers gotta eat.
All this is a roundabout way of getting to the correspondence I’ve had this week about the Evan Delaney series. A reader wrote that she has finished the novels and that I’ve left too many questions unanswered for too long. She wanted to know what happens to Jesse Blackburn. She said she doesn’t plan to read any of my other books because she hates when authors stop series with no indication of where the characters are heading.
Fair enough. That’s not something I would ever tell an author, but fair enough.
But: I haven’t ended the series. Evan’s story is not over. Seriously. I’ve been writing other books (because I love the stories, and because I gotta eat). I don’t yet have a date scheduled for a new Evan novel, and I know that can seem frustrating. But Evan is still around. There might be an Evan short story soon. Stuff’s going on behind the scenes — stuff I don’t blog about, but it’s going on.
And, of course, I told the reader: Kill Chain was not Evan and Jesse’s last appearance. They both feature in The Nightmare Thief — which came out in paperback just a few months ago.
I said I hope that helped. The reader replied: As long as there’s more Jesse — he’s too good for Evan. What has she ever done for him?
I didn’t respond to that, but it didn’t matter. The next day a new message arrived. Subject: Disappointed.
The reader had rushed to check Nightmare Thief out of the library based on my promise that Evan and Jesse are in the book, and felt extremely disappointed — because Jesse has only a small role in the novel.
Maybe I could have been clearer. The Nightmare Thief, as the jacket explains, is a Jo Beckett novel. Evan and Jesse are crossover characters, and Evan has more page time by far. But that was only the start of the reader’s complaint. The rest of the message expressed her stinging anger at Evan. Her feelings: Evan is a user. Jesse is a hero and a superman. Evan has done nothing but take from him, always demanding more, until he has nothing left to give. Jesse should get away from her as fast as he can. And it’s obvious Jo Beckett is the just same as Evan, a woman who for once in her life finds a good man and takes advantage of him…
At this point, I was thinking: they’re fictional characters. And the reader was livid. I mean, this email was the only message she signed, and she was so furious that she misspelled her own name. Clearly she was angry at me, but I kept thinking: fictional characters.
The Husband had a different thought: “Can you tell where the email originated?” I couldn’t. I asked why he wanted to know. He said: “Because if she writes back, saying, ‘I don’t like what you’re wearing right now,’ we’re locking the doors.”
In any case, I replied to the message, saying I was sorry she was disappointed, and thanking her for reading.
So, readers: My characters are not perfect. They have flaws — they’re meant to be human. But I certainly don’t think the heroines of my books are users who suck the life from the men around them and give nothing in return. If you do, please take another look at the novels. And after that, if you still think Evan and Jo are emotional vampires, repeat after me: fictional characters.
What do writers owe readers? We don’t owe books tailored to individual readers’ tastes, that turn out exactly as they prefer. We do owe our best possible work. We owe stories that are exciting, surprising, moving, thoughtful, and fun.
That means we can’t please everybody. It’s okay. I still love to write. And I still look forward to talking to people who read my books. So let’s hear it.