As an author (and reader), I have to say that the reader is always right, even when they’re wrong. A reader reads from their perspective and can see (or miss) the layers in the story they are reading, or even see something in a story that the author has not consciously included–the meaning IS in the eye of the beholder.
But what if a reader is offended by an author’s work and tells the author so? Should an author respond?
Yes. My responses are written and then sent to… my draft folder where they remain until they are forever deleted. It is unprofessional (and unethical) to castigate a reader for their cherished beliefs, however much an author (as creator) is tempted. I write speculative fiction, and/or sensual material which may often cross boundaries that a reader cannot. As a writer of “speculative” fiction (and I include paranormal in this definition), I often present different realities to the world in which we live. I faced this issue some years ago with a reader response to my latest book. Starlight, on first glance, is a work linked by many high sensual scenes with a story (evil villain/alien invasion) threaded through that intensifies as the characters develop. The characters are a mix of human and “felinus” (cat shape-shifters) who interact with their world and others most often through their sexuality, so there is a lot of “docking manoeuvre”, in all its infinite diversity. But within the obvious is the “unobvious”: the layers and depth that are there for the reader IF they choose to look.
A underlying theme of all my writing is the question: “what is human”? And I ask this question of my human, non-human and Artificial Intelligence characters. In Starlight, I asked this question through the point of view of my human heroine, who must also question her “humanity” and how she interacts with the “non-humans”.
In my latest releases I have stories dealing with vampires, wizards, cat shifters and humans–all of whom are confronted by the meaning of their life and the world in which they live. I know that some readers have been confronted by the stories, especially when they discover the male/male aspects of romance.
A book can be read on many levels. So, regardless of whether a reader sees (or decides not to see) the themes, layers and depths within a work, they are right–the work is interpreted by them, based on their own world view.
I believe an author has the “right” to tackle big picture issues, but in so doing, must expect that some readers will not empathise and their reaction is “right”, too.
An author sends a book out into the world and if it pushes boundaries, then it is to be expected that it may confront readers who may feel obliged to challenge the author.
The irony, for me, with Starlight was that while one reader missed my intent, others picked up on it immediately, saying how much they loved the characters and their devotion to one another–so it is in the eye of the beholder and the reader is right, as is the author.
My futuristic romance, Crystal Dreams (published by Devine Destinies) deals with the a clash of cultures. Readers found this book posed questions that made them re-think their relationships to others who appeared “different”. Not all readers enjoyed the alpha male hero, but Connal was “right” for this world.
The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.
I have a reader (aged 88) who has been with me ever since I started my writing journey. Occasionally, a character or a book so inspires her that she writes poetry for me. In Starlight she was very taken with the shifter with the purple tentacles!, as well as ‘Harimal’. She doesn’t write much now, due to her arthritic hands, but when she does manage to produce a poem, or a short comment, it is (for me) the highest compliment. By her work, she is reincarnating my work, in her own image. Again, her eye beholds what I have created, and she re-works it.
The author “dies” frequently. When a book is completed and sent in manuscript form to the publisher, that book is dead in its original incarnation. It is re-born as a printed volume, with a cover–again, a new creator/reader has presented an interpretation of the work through art. Having worked on a book for months, or years, an author often has a profound sense of loss when the book is finished, because these creations have become part of the author’s life. When the book is completed, the characters “die”, only to be re-born when the book is published and new sets of eyes (the readers) see the story. The author faces the symbolic death of self in that work, because the story is part of the author. But the author is also re-born (as is the work) when the book is read by others.
After an absence of many months, I re-read Starlight. In that time, I had, as a person, undergone some experiences that ensured I was not the person I was when I wrote the story. I read Starlight with new eyes and discovered layers and depth I had not noticed (or intended when writing). I’ll discuss this conscious/sub-conscious relationship in another writing tip.
Perhaps this sounds odd–as the author of the work, surely I must know what is in the story? Not necessarily. The characters tell the story and there are often moments in the writing process where what I write comes from “without”–from somewhere beyond the author and characters.
So, the author presents a work which readers read, based on their own reality. There is no right or wrong interpretation. As in writing, there are layers and depth. Perhaps if anyone is more “right”, then it would have to be the characters whose voice and actions tell the story.
Starlight and the Monsters inK series are published by extasy books. www.extasybooks.com