I have been blessed this past month with receiving a bunch of fan mail – more than I have ever received at one time in the past. I have been brought to tears by two emails. I’ve always felt blessed that some people like my books. That people take the time to write me and say such lovely things is another big blessing. I never take it for granted.
However, I recently received an email that set me back on my heels.
I’ve told you, in the past, that I have a weird sleep schedule. I get up in the middle of the night – every night – and I’ve learned to live around it. I honestly think the reason is because I worked in the corporate world for so many years and was writing at the same time. I would get up at 2 o’clock in the morning and work until six when I started to get ready for work. I did this for about 15 years. I think it set my weird sleep schedule in stone.
Anyway, last night I got up again around 2 o’clock and while I was up I checked my email. Well, lucky me, I received… I’m hesitating here because I don’t know exactly how to describe it.
The woman told me that she had read all of my books and had loved every single one of them, but that one book had made her tear the cover off and destroy it page by page.
I have to admit that I’m not the world’s most brilliant thinker at 2 o’clock in the morning. I don’t write at that hour anymore. What I’m doing is trying to fall back to sleep most of the time.
The woman’s email went on and on and on. Evidently, there was some plot point that she disliked in this particular book. Something that had happened to a character as part of his back story. She took umbrage to it. She took great umbrage to it. I think she went on for about four pages, but at that hour the morning I tend to skim. So I skimmed lots of details, things that had happened to members of her family. I remember someone losing an arm and someone else screaming at night. I think.
Here’s another confession: I don’t remember the plot of the book she referenced. The same one she tore apart page by page. Y’all, I often don’t remember things from one book to the other and that’s because I’ve got all of these characters and plots in my mind and once they are put down on the page, they are out of my brain. Plus, I’ve written over 60 books. I couldn’t possibly keep things straight.
I spent about five minutes trying to figure out what she was talking about, but since I couldn’t even remember the plot of the book, let alone the characters, I gave up.
I won’t read her email again.
However, this gets to the nitty-gritty of this post. Y’all, I am not my characters. Yes, there are some values that I share with characters, but I am not them. Lots of things happen to the people in my books. 99% of them have never happened to me.
If someone has made a bad choice in their past, that is not my choice. My characters are a product of my imagination.
I’ll confess something else: some of my characters have gone through hell. That is a personal decision on my part. I believe that sometimes we do go through hell in life, but I also believe that love is transformative. The ability to love is transformative.
Because I have chosen not to reread that woman’s email, I can’t speak to all of the issues she raised. Like I said, I skimmed. However, I do remember that she was telling me that I was insensitive to all of the pain her family went through because of a similar situation.
Fiction will do that. Sometimes, fiction cuts too close to the bone and when that happens, it’s better to just close the book and choose something else to read. I’ve had the same situation happen to me.
I regret that she feels my decisions as a writer were an effort to deliberately hurt her. Evidently, it made her feel better to write a four page email to castigate me. However, I don’t think she would see the irony of her action.