Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Charlaine Harris, Southern Vampires, and Entitlement

This is the second take of my title.  The first was "Charlaine Harris is not your B***H".  It seems very posh to quote Mr. Gaiman these days and well, it seems to fit.  Specifically it comes, so the legend goes, from a time that Neil Gaiman was asked how a fan could ask GRR Martin to write faster because they were so anxious to see where the Game of Thrones story line went.  His answer?

You don't.

And that quote started to make the rounds again as authors weighed in on the recent debacle related to the much anticipated end to the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampires True Blood series.

But, given that ChibiNeko did that for her blog, I thought I'd write up my take on the whole thing under my own title.

The best write up of the event is here at the Blog of one Mary Janice Davidson, author of UNDead and Unwed and other stories of Vampire Queen Betsy. Edited:  I originally mistyped the title of Ms. Davidon's Queen Betsy series as "Dead and Unwed" rather than "Undead and Unwed".  For clarity here's the actual book.  In fact, I need to really apologize because so much of Mind the Thorns and my own efforts to write to a similar audience was influenced by having read the first two books in that series.

Here's the short form:

The last novel is due to be released on May 7th.  It was leaked early (probably due to a mistake at a book store) and a fan decided that they did not like the ending.  They did not like the ending so much that they set out specifically to spoil it for as many people as they could.  This included posting directly on Harris's Facebook wall.

She responded, in my opinion, with class:

By now some of you know that a reader in Germany obtained a copy of DEAD EVER AFTER and decided to post the ending online. While this is unfortunate, I wanted to say this to all of you: Even if you *personally* are unhappy with the ending, please don’t spoil it for other readers. DEAD EVER AFTER goes on sale on May 7th; after that date, you are more that welcome to come here and tell me how much you like - or don’t like - the choices I’ve made for Sookie. But from one Sookie fan to another, I’m asking you all to please not spoil the book for other readers. Thank you so much for your continued support.
Charlaine Harris

As near as I can tell she really did not have any other choice.  If she had left the posts on her page, her fans, like it or not, would likely be spoiled and the fun of finding out the ending ruined.  Likewise just deleting them quietly would have caused even more of an uproar.  Her only choice it seemed was to respond, professionally, and ask that people try to be polite and respectful.

So that's been played out pretty but well but it opens up the flood gates of posts for writers to think about.

As I have written before about fan fic, I'm going to save that for later and instead focus on what readers should expect when they buy into a book and when they buy into a series.  Specifically the vicious cycle that is itself the formula for frustration.

To talk about this, let's assume that Bastion: The Last Hope goes on to become the "next" Twilight, the "next" Harry Potter, the "next" Game of Thrones.  I know, you dear reader, believe in your heart that this must be so, but I, the humble author, still have my doubts.

So people come to the website week after week.  They donate to the continuation of the story.  They buy print copies of the book as it comes out.  They buy swag and go to cons and talk about how much they love the work.

Fan fiction begins to appear.  You know you've arrived when you see people start to write fan fiction based on your stuff.

What can people expect?  What is fair now?  Should they have a right to be upset when I start killing off characters?  Should I start to tailor my writing to match the fact that people like certain characters?

Do my characters acquire plot immunity because I know that killing them will cost me readers?

At what point does my audience take over the manner in which my story is told?

And that, right there dear reader, is the crux of what has happened.

Harris was telling a long story spanning several books.  But along the way, her readership became invested in it to the point where they felt that their personal plans for the book trumped the story Harris wanted to tell.  I won't even go so far as to say what kind of story, good or bad.  I will only offer up that good or bad, it was her story to tell.

Gunny is my character to write, and Genevieve's part to act.  That's it.  No one else "owns" her.

But that's not easily communicated.  Part of why I got to be the famous "Author of that Innovative Web Novel" was because my fans told other fans.  They shared their fan fic.  They talked about what they hoped would happen to the characters.  They helped build me up.

An option, of course, is to tell the story I think they want.  To keep droning out book after book (or update after update) specially to keep people reading more than I'm worried about telling a story.

I believe, truly, that such is not good writing.  At the end of it, my name is attached to the work and my only responsiblity is to tell the best story I can within my vision for the story.  It's good if people like the story, but I can't start to second guess my arches based on what I think people will like.

And that's what I think went wrong here.  Too many fans decided that they were owed story arcs, plot threads and a specific kind of resolution.  And because what they expected, what they felt they were "owed" for their investment was not what they got.

It's never a good thing to disappoint an audience.  But it happens.  You can't please all the people all the time.

Harry Potter absolutely could have ended with it all being a dream.  The Hunger Games could, quite honestly, ended with a double suicide.  These endings might not have been wildly popular, but they would have been perfectly valid.

And at the end of it, all a reader is truly entitled to is to read the work, and decide if they want to consume more of that author's product.  That's it.

You can be upset, you can be disappointed, you can be furious, you can even feel cheated.  But that's a risk you take when you consume literature in any form.  Usually the risk is worth it.  And if it's not, then there are millions of other authors to try out.


  1. "To talk about this, let's assume that Bastion: The Last Hope goes on to become the "next" Twilight, the "next" Harry Potter, the "next" Game of Thrones." I should hope so. I would love for you to get invited to say, Montreal ComicCon!

    I like to write as well, although i am nowhere near as accomplished as you are, and I tend to think this: I write a story I would like to read, and if anyone else likes it great! But first and foremost, I write for me.

    1. Make you a promise: Get me on a panel or two for Montreal ComicCon and I'll be there. I will need a few week notice as I need to get my passport or you're stuck with me long term. :)

      It's easy to get out of the US. A lot harder to get back in.

  2. Thanks so much for referencing my blog! I'd add that my book's title is "Undead and Unwed". Could I trouble you to change it? Thanks!

    1. Oh my God... I'm so sorry about that! Considering how much I tapped into the feel (or at least how much I tried) for Mind the Thorns and to an extent FantastiCon, I should have at least gotten the title right!

      Thanks for letting me know and for visiting my little corner of the web.