There has been a wonderful amount of thoughtful commentary on sexism and misogyny of late (along with some idiocy, but that’s to be expected), and as a filthy, filthy liberal, I welcome progress in this area.
However: my novel may actually be the ranting of a misogynist in diary form.
Well, he doesn’t think of himself as a misogynist… how many men really do? On that note, how many women realize the things they do every day that help to oppress the other women around them (e.g., using the word “bitch” in any non-Jesse-Pinkman setting)?
But my main character, Robert Jeanbaptiste, objectifies women. He sees them as sexual objects first and foremost, but then he sees them as people. Now, as a husband/father/etc., I shouldn’t objectify women, blah, blah, blah, but I must confess that like many people I’ve been guilty of this offense more than once. I happen to really like women.
But I’m working on it. I’m getting better. Hell, I spent a six month period in my teen years (1994, I believe) as a no-foolin’ bigot, and somehow I got that out of my system. So learning how some of my thoughts and behaviour are not only inappropriate at times, but also counterproductive… I’ve got a handle on it.
And maybe Robert Jeanbaptiste will work on his issues, too. That’s what characters do, isn’t it? They learn and grow (or don’t), and that makes a story.
But it can be a problem. Every time Robert Jeanbaptiste makes a mistake (and it happens, that jackass), I lose readers. Most of those unhappy readers keep reading from what I’ve heard, but some get so angry at that terrible, terrible man that they decide that the story itself is terrible.
That’s their right, and until my super plutonium mind-ray completes its trials on chimps and reality show viewers, that’s how it will remain. And I’ll keep getting moral judgements on Robert Jeanbaptiste in the form of negative reviews. That’s okay, because I get that not everyone wants to read about a man who makes the mistakes he makes, but sometimes I wish that there was a way to separate “reasonably-crafted novel with a character who pissed me off” from “any novel by Dan Brown” in the various book rating systems. (Sorry, Dan Brown, for the cheap and low blow… I needed someone to use as an example, and you’re too rich to care what I think.)
But I’ll take the bad reviews and low ratings. I’m glad that Robert Jeanbaptiste makes mistakes. I’m glad that people care enough to be angry at the things he does. And I’m glad that some people absolutely despise the female character I happen to like the most. Hate’s better than indifference.
And based on my personal goals as a writer, having produced a novel that affects people, good or bad, is more satisfying for me than writing something that is flatly loved and quickly forgotten. Now, there’s nothing wrong with books like that. My wife reads books like that and won’t touch my book with a ten foot pole. But those kinds of books are not what I’m doing here.
What am I doing with After The Fires Went Out? I’m trying to portray my own skewed worldview, and work out my personal issues, and maybe get some scratch while I do it.
And unfortunately for some readers, my stories have too much sex and foul language — funny that no one ever complains about the violence — and a guy who just isn’t as good a hero as we all want him to be.
(Unfortunately for some other readers, After The Fires Went Out: Coyote is not a guidebook to post-apocalyptic survival, and will not teach you how to live through a comet strike, nuclear attack, superplague, climate change-castrophe, alien invasion, Obama’s gun-and-porn seizures, the return of Jesus Christ and/or Elvis, or the day after the end of Breaking Bad. I like to think that I’ve done my research on the related topics, but that research isn’t splattered out on the page like beer and cheetos from a drunken frat boy.)
I always need to remind myself of two things when I’m feeling bad about pissing readers off and reaping the consequences:
- Reviews and ratings are oftentimes a reflection of what a specific reader wants out of a book, and whether or not that desire was fulfilled
- If someone didn’t enjoy Book One, it’s definitely a good idea to NOT have them read Book Two. Robert Jeanbaptiste isn’t done making mistakes.
Note: not surprisingly, you can still hop on board the After The Fires Went Out train and find out what all the fuss is about, if you haven’t already.