I’ve done this once before: written a blog post in response to a 1-star Amazon review accusing me of being a racist. (You can read the other one here, if you missed it the first time.)
For the record, it isn’t the 1-star review that bothers me. Not that I aspire to them, but people are entitled to their opinions, and anyway, I’m in good company. Check the Amazon listing for any bestselling book out there, new or old, and you’ll find a few 1-star reviews. Books that are a hell of a lot better written than mine, too.
Pride and Prejudice, anyone?
But this isn’t about that. It isn’t even about the racism-accusation, although for the record – again – I’m not a closet racist looking for an outlet for my prejudices. I wrote about racism because I think it’s wrong, not because I think it’s A-OK.
What it comes down to, is change.
See, A Cutthroat Business isn’t the only one of my books that has hit some people the wrong way. Savannah isn’t my only character – my only heroine – with flaws. Deep flaws. Flaws that are neither endearing nor pretty.
Take Fortune’s Hero, for instance. Doctor Elsa Brandeis works as an assistant to Doctor Marcus Sterling, head of the medical team in the prison colony on the moon Marica-3. Or to put it more bluntly, Elsa is the assistant to the main torturer, since the whole point of the medical team is to extract information from the prisoners.
Elsa has tortured Quinn to death more than once, and brought him back to life each time, only so she could do it again.
That’s a hell of a thing to come back from.
A name that’s mentioned frequently in Fortune’s Hero is Josie. She never shows up in the book, but she’s a presence nonetheless. Josie was Quinn’s girlfriend before the book started, and Josie is the reason Quinn – and the rest of his crew – are in prison in the first place. She betrayed them. She seduced Quinn and charmed the rest of his crew. She traveled with them for six months. She was one of them. They trusted her.
And she sold them to the bad guys.
In book 2, Fortune’s Honor, Josie comes back. And her redemption isn’t any easier than Elsa’s. These are things that it’s hard to overcome. Both for the person having to forgive, and for the person who committed the transgression. Sometimes I wonder if it isn’t easier for the sinned against to forgive, than it is for the sinner to forgive him- or herself.
But I digress. We were talking about flawed heroines.
Savannah. Elsa. Josie.
And Kaylee Carter. Kaylee is the main character in Friends with Benefits, a short little contemporary romance that’ll probably be released at some point this year.
The first thing Kaylee does in Friends with Benefits, is sleep with Gil Norris, heir to the Norris fortune. He’s handsome, he’s wealthy, he’s smarmy, and she sleeps with him.
I’ve been told it would make Kaylee more sympathetic if I did a little strategic rewriting and made her less of a gold-digger. And maybe that’s true. But my goal isn’t making Kaylee sympathetic. My goal is to show Kaylee change. If she doesn’t sleep with the wrong guy for all the wrong reasons at the beginning of the book, how can she learn to appreciate the hero for all his stellar qualities by the end?
Could I have written these books differently?
I could have made Fake Gil slip Kaylee a roofie so she wasn’t in control of what she was doing, and voila: instant victim. Instant sympathy.
Elsa could have been a Florence Nightingale type, bravely putting herself out there on the edge of the galaxy for unselfish reasons.
Josie could have been more sinned against than sinning, and Savannah could have been a Southern Belle with no racial prejudices or preconceptions whatsoever.
I could have created worlds where there’s no racism, no torture, and where no girl ever sleeps with a guy – or betrays him – for money. A world where everyone’s character flaws are charming and quirky and cute.
Nothing wrong with that. People have written books like that. People have read them and liked them. It’s a hell of a lot easier to sympathize with a sympathetic character, after all.
I could have done it, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to short-change my characters. I didn’t want to truncate their journey or stunt their growth. I wanted them to become all that they could be.
At the end of Close to Home, after four books of back and forth, push and pull, doubt and fear and guilt and pain, when Savannah finally stands up – figuratively speaking – and tells her mother and anyone else who’ll listen, “I love him and I don’t care who knows it,” it’s a bigger victory because of where she came from. Because of what she had to go through to get to that point.
If there’s nothing much to overcome, the journey is short and simple, and the change is quick and easy.
But when there are obstacles in the path, and the journey starts at the bottom of the well, not merely the bottom of the mountain, then the victory isn’t only sweet, it’s triumphant.
I want to write about triumphant victories. About difficult journeys and amazing change. And to do that, sometimes it’s necessary to start with a character who’s less than perfect. Who’s flawed. Unsympathetic. Hard to love. And at the bottom of the well.
And if that means I offend people some of the time, and my books get a few 1-star reviews from people who prefer to read about perfect, sympathetic characters, then I guess it’s worth it.