This morning I got a message on this site from a man who absolutely hates Bone Blind. Email being what it is, this person could be something other than is suggested by his name and message. I had to ponder this, since I’m basically a hermit and have no natural enemies. That I know of. But then I probably wouldn’t notice anyway. The best possible enemy I could come up with is the young woman who slept in the dorm bunk beneath mine (very briefly) in college. She hung her rosary over the top of the bunk’s upright by my head, and her nightly snores were like small helicopters crashing in ponds of thick soup. It wasn’t easy, logistically, but one night I managed to hang upside-down under my top bunk and –Geronimo! – drop that rosary right in her mouth. (Yes, kids can be so cruel, etc. And I wasn’t even a kid; I was 19. It’s terrible; I’m not arguing.) But I don’t think today’s message was from her. It was so long ago that she may be dead and besides, the author’s discursive style just didn’t say “Midwest.” So I was left with the possibility that he was who he said he was and thought what he said he thought.
And what he said was courteous, articulate and seemingly heartfelt. He read my other books and liked the style. He said he will buy any subsequent books that I write. But he couldn’t get into BB’s “demographic,” didn’t care if the characters plummeted to depths or spiraled into space and didn’t think I cared, either. Wow.
So I had to think about that. BB doesn’t have a demographic, or at least I never intended one. But do I “care” about Finn and Tally and Yost as much as I “care” about Bo and Blue (protagonists in previous novels)? I do, or I wouldn’t have gone to the considerable trouble of releasing them from their prison in a box in my garage. I wanted them to have the life enjoyed by all fictional people, a life that may include being disliked by real people. Yes! And I imagined their responses. Sensitive Finn is puzzled at the attention and somewhat hurt that my correspondent doesn’t like him. Tally? Hard to say, but at least on the surface she’s all hardass, dismissive, flip. Yost is least affected, but would be equally happy to have a beer with the guy and talk, or give him a speeding ticket just for the hell of it.
The point is that, oddly, they’re there, somewhere, and can react to a real, live person as they could to other fictional people inside their novel. On the other hand, they’re not me and I have no need to defend them. I only wrote their story and am only happy that my correspondent read it. I’m also happy that he cared enough to write to me about it. The writer’s world is not like the real one, it seems.
And the world of the contemporary or indie author is not like the old, traditional one, either. Responses to the Bo and Blue novels were filtered through the offices of a mega-publisher and then my agent before they ever got to me. I received many “fan” letters in response to those books, and not one was negative, suggesting that the negatives were filtered out somewhere along the pipeline. (It didn’t occur to me then, but seems obvious now – how possible is it that no one wrote to say s/he really hated at least one of seven novels?) But that traditional wall between author and reader is a crumbling ruin at this point; anyone may contact any author who has a blog or website. And every author has a blog or a website.
So is this a bright, new day of stimulating exchange, or an anarchic Gehenna fraught with dire peril? Both. The line may be drawn by the competencies of those involved. Last week a pathetically incompetent indie “author” savagely attacked a reviewer (whose review of her “novel” was actually quite benign). The event went viral and within hours she was reviled all over the Internet, some clever wag going so far as to write a parodied review on Amazon, lauding her nearly-unreadable text as comparable to that of James Joyce. I loved the parody, and laughed, but underneath I was sorry that the fiasco could occur at all. She should have been protected, somehow, from her own incompetence and its brutal result. In the old days there were safeguards, but now there are none and there will be casualties. I hope she isn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the message I got this morning was negative, but nonetheless made my day. It made me think, which is a gift.