by Janis Patterson
It’s getting scary out there, people.
Fans are turning from appreciative readers into ravening packs of dictators and usurpers.
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard about the outrages perpetrated against Charlaine Harris?
Charlaine – who is one of the nicest people on the planet – finally ended her long-running Sookie Stackhouse series after umpteen books. She ended it a logical and nice way, but it just proved that you can’t please everyone. A portion of her fans erupted into a frenzied storm of verbal violence, sending her hate mail and death threats and fervent wishes that she would be raped and murdered for daring to end the series that way. Just because they didn’t like what happened.
First of all, it’s fiction!
Second of all, it’s her story, her characters, her vision – she and she alone should have the right to decide the ending. The fact that anyone should think otherwise is downright frightening, bringing up the image of a writer chained to a desk in a basement writing to the order of her fans. Sound over-the-top? Remember Stephen King’s MISERY? That too was fiction, but I wonder how close real life might be getting to these scenarios.
Just about the same time this was going on, there was a horror story making the rounds of the writers’ loops about some fans at a conference getting on their high horse and declaring that the writers should stop feeling that they own the characters and the stories – that they really belong to the readers.
That makes just about as much sense as some weird political pundit announcing a few weeks ago that “parents have to get over the belief that their children belong to them personally and not to the state.” Crazy talk! Parents have the children and the children are their family and their responsibility. The writers have the vision, the writers do the work, the writers create. Readers read. How in the heck does that make them think that the characters and stories belong to them? What gives readers the right to believe that they make the decisions?
To me, this is an example of today’s all-too-prevalent entitlement mentality run totally amok. They want, so they feel they should have, so they demand – and then they get bent out of shape when they don’t get exactly what they want. Yes, there is a definite resemblance between this and a badly-behaved toddler having a tantrum.
There once was a day when authors were regarded if not with awe, at least with respect. They created living characters and entire worlds out of little more than imagination and caffeine and readers respected them for it. Now, however, things have changed. While there was once a respectful distance between writers and readers, the internet and its resulting social media have thrown the two close together, which is both good and bad.
As writers we are pretty much responsible for our own publicity nowadays, which means a lot of interaction with readers. That has removed a lot of the aura of specialness that writers used to have, and has made the readers more involved on a closer scale, which is not altogether a good thing nor a bad thing, though it has the potential to be either. Readers feel entitled to approach the writer, even feel that the writer has become their friend. All too often, though, for a certain kind of reader, this freedom of association becomes license. They feel the writer is their employee, bound to produce what they want at their order.
That is not altogether untrue. This is a free market, and if a what writer is producing is something a reader dislikes, the reader has the perfect freedom to stop buying it and take his business elsewhere. It does NOT give the reader the right to issue orders or make threats disguised as demands and threats as if they were some wild-eyed Middle-Eastern fanatic. On the other hand, if a reader is unhappy, I don’t know of a writer who would be upset about a civil, rationally phrased letter unemotionally stating their concerns. Hysterics, accusations, threats and ill-wishes are beyond the pale and unacceptable!
Now I like getting to know my readers – to a point. I enjoy chatting with them, hearing their concerns (when civilly and politely phrased) and most especially their validation of my work when it pleases them.
On the other hand, simply because I am open to communication does not mean that I take orders from them, that the characters and stories which come from my imagination and hard work belong in any way to them, or that they have the right to demand anything of me. I am one of those people who have to write; I do not have to make what I write available to them, and when I do it is on my terms. If they are so unhappy, let them go create a world and the characters to populate it on their own. That they can do anything they want to with.
And I would be sardonically gleeful to see exactly what would happen when some other reader tried to dictate to them. The results just might be memorable.
Like I said, it’s getting scary out there, people.