Since I published Crazy Little Thing Called Dead I’ve gotten a few, uh – unpleasant emails from people because something bad happens to some of Bree’s animals in that book. I know, I know, NEVER hurt kids or animals. Except that Donald Maass says the most popular books are those in which people feel genuine emotion, and that you should “kill the cat.”
Now I’m sure the readers who have sent me these less than pleasant emails are perfectly nice individuals, who are normally kind and thoughtful. I shattered their expectations, and that’s never easy. And I’ve been there, I’ve read books where authors have done things that I thought were unnecessary, and have made me leery to read them again. And I certainly would rather someone put down my books because of an emotional story line than because the writing is bad. But sometimes I just want to write back and say “These were fictional animals. They never actually existed. No animals were harmed in the creation of this book.”
I know this wouldn’t help. I know that in people’s heads (mine included) these animals were real. Initially I wrote the scenes to help deal with the sadness I felt at having to put Midnight to sleep last Spring. She had cancer and could not eat. It had to be done. But only the death of my mother hurt me more than having to put down that beloved dog. Here’s her picture:
It makes me sad just to see her face. She was our first family dog. I dug her grave. Writing about Bree’s animals allowed me to release the emotion and cry like I would not have been able to else-wise. Not that I will ever stop missing her.
In order for Bree to act against her essential nature, which she does in this book, something horrific had to happen. I used the emotion I had already put into that scene – on the advice of some very savvy writers. I don’t regret it.
I do regret making people feel bad. One email I received on Christmas Eve was especially hard to take – partially because I was described as – well, evil. That’s a strong word to use. But mostly because my words had hurt someone so badly that at Christmas, a time for happiness and joy, she was feeling hurt and rage and hatred. I would not wish that for anyone.
But is it evil to take a story to a place you believe it needs to go, even when it means taking it past a point of comfort? Some would argue that I’ve broken faith with my readers. Up to this point my books have been fairly light, and upbeat. Even fun. Others might argue that my writing needed to evolve. To deepen. That I shouldn’t be afraid to write about the more unpleasant aspects of life.
I don’t know. I think the laughter and tears can be balanced in one book. I think you can take that emotional ride with a character and understand why she might be pushed beyond her moral code, and thankful when she’s pulled back again. But it’s difficult as a writer to have disappointed readers. Not mildly disappointed, mind you, disappointed enough to call me a horrible and immoral person.
In the end, I will write what I write because I need to. If I start trying to second guess what is going to offend people I’m afraid there will be no there there. I didn’t write a difficult scene because there is horror in the world, but because there was horror in my heart. Nothing more, or less, than that.
All this reminds me – Julie, I don’t think you should read Crazy Little Thing Called Dead. You probably wouldn’t like it. And I want to stay friends with you.