Every now and then a topic catches my eye and all of a sudden, I have to throw my two cents in there because I’ll simply go nuts if I don’t speak up. Sometimes something just has to be said, especially when it’s something you’re passionate about. So, I step onto my soapbox for a moment, as humbly as possible.
Before I start rambling (I know, too late!), let me make it perfectly clear: I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind with what I have to say. I’m very aware that everyone holds their own view on this topic, and really, it’s a fun subject that can be discussed on and on with no definite conclusion. So, for a few seconds, I’m just going to share my personal conclusion because 1.) it feels good to get it off my chest! and 2.) for the sake of my fellow writer and reader friends. While I can’t speak for all of them, I know I’m not alone in my irritation when an author is shamed or bashed because of the content of their book. More on that in a minute…
Seeing people slap authors on the wrist for influencing people with their work in a “negative” way is nothing new. Obviously, this has gone on for years and years. Some take their view of the effects of art to an extreme, while others are more liberal, and for many, opinions simply fall somewhere in the middle. I guess I started noticing a new wave of author bashing since the whole Fifty Shades craze. Yeah, I know. Typically, any time something turns into a phenomenon or becomes the next pop culture craze, it’s attacked for numerous reasons. Some just don’t care for a story or film. Some hate the story or film. Some think it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting or they are tired of hearing about it. Whatever the case, people get all up in arms over anything popular or controversial. Nothing new there.
Enter a whole genre or subgenre of books that happen to involve some controversial stuff, and we’ve got a lot of passionate words flying around. For example, the recent This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas. Before I dive in here, for the record, I love this series, but if you read my reviews and talk to anyone who has spoken to me about these books, you’ll find that I (like many of the readers who’ve read this series) are not living under a rock. We’re not blind to the fact that the lead love interest, Mr. Jesse Ward, is all sorts of dysfunctional. He has a healthy list of UN-healthy traits and behaviors, all of which, in the real world, would never be glorified. Don’t misunderstand me–I understand SOME women sadly find themselves in toxic, unhealthy relationships and cannot see the distinction between “okay” and “so-not-okay”. I’m well aware that books have power. Words have power. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be reading them, and lives wouldn’t be changed because of them.
Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to balance when one chooses to blame an author for another person’s life choices. Sounds a little far fetched to me. Remember the whole Twilight hoopla (as if we could forget)? At the time that whole thing broke out, I was a member of a conservative fundamentalist religious denomination. You can bet that these sparkly vamps sneaking in windows to get into a girl’s bedroom at night caused some ruffled feathers in that community. And what about the Harry Potter phenomenon? There were (and still are) parents around the globe who pointed fingers at J.K. Rowling for “introducing” their children to the occult. And so on it goes, all the way back into history, where authors of all kinds were criticized for influencing minds of all ages.
I think the truth in all of this falls somewhere in the middle. Obviously, books DO influence us. And while most authors are writing to express themselves and share ideas, they are usually writing about their own exploration of the world. To say each author condones every single thing their characters do in their book is asinine. If that were true, we’d have some serious issues on our hands, wouldn’t we? Maybe some of us should be locked up. Maybe our books should be burned…do you see where I’m going with this?
Ask most writers (and readers reading their books) and they can easily tell you whether or not they think the action of a particular character is admirable or not. How often do we read books and find we absolutely abhor one of the characters, or are sickened by a crime or some sort of injustice? The answer would be: Every time we read. Liking a plot or the core message of something is a lot different than condoning that plot or core message. You can love a story based on how it made you feel or what you experienced because of it, without actually agreeing with the serial killer lead or shameless thief. We like what we resonate with, or what we desire, but it doesn’t always mean we agree with all the steps a character takes to bring us to that place.
It’s taken to a whole other level when we begin blaming the choices and actions of real-life people on something they read or watched. To say a writer’s work is responsible for someone else is unfair and in my mind, illogical. To assign that kind of accountability to someone who is sharing a fictional story with the world is a little bit too much.
Should artists of all kinds consider what they’re saying before they say it? Should we care about influence? Of course! But no one can ever be held accountable for how someone interprets something and what they do with it from that point on. Speaking from experience, I can say 100%, without a doubt, I don’t condone everything my characters do or say. But I still let them do their thing and make no apologies for it. I would never filter or change my work’s content for sake of how it MIGHT potentially influence someone.
Adults will read my books. Teenagers will read my books. Some will be offended, some will not. Some will be inspired, some will not. Everyone will draw something different from them, and I have zero control over that. All I have control over is staying true to my vision and believing in what I have to say, even if someone missed that message or saw something different entirely. Contrary to what some may think, most of us are not trying to sell you an agenda. Seriously. Most of the time we’re just having fun telling a fictional story. We’re not sitting there, typing away, plotting to convert you to some belief or trying to convince you of something. Do we hope to inspire you? Yes. Do we hope to shed light on subjects we’re passionate about? Yes.
But the bottom line is that we’re readers and book lovers, just like you, who are sharing our views, experiences, and opinions with the world. We might be asking you to think outside the box or to challenge yourself in some way in hopes that you’ll discover something new, but we’re not asking you to agree with us.
Is it sad that some will read about controlling, dysfunctional, possessive leading men in romance novels and think, “I’d love a man like that,?” Of course it is. I understand that most readers who are upset by this sort of thing are disturbed when the unhealthy behavior or belief of said men are glorified or romanticized in some way. I myself have been disturbed by some of the same things at times, but I also see and understand that more often than not, what is really romanticized in that reader’s mind isn’t always a specific behavior or choice, but the MOTIVE behind that choice. It’s the stuff underneath all the crazy that we swoon over, not the crazy itself.
So where do I fall in this camp? If you can’t already tell, I fall in the Lighten-Up Camp. Fiction is just that–fiction. Yes, it is serious business, but it should also be taken for face value. It’s entertainment. It’s escapism. It’s 365 pages of relaxation. I take what I read and write seriously, but I hope I never over-analyze it all so much that I completely suck the fun out of it and forget the whole reason it’s fiction in the first place.