Some Thoughts on Provoking Strong Reactions.

I was going to call this post ‘Some Thoughts on Writing a Book that People Don’t Like’, but I thought that would be overstating it. It was prompted by a comment a friend posted about my book Summon Up The Blood on Facebook. In essence, he said that he enjoyed the book but there were aspects of it that he felt didn’t work for him and left him feeling uncomfortable. Specifically, he objected to the way I’d handled the discrepancy between attitudes towards homosexuality at the time of the book’s setting (1914) and modern attitudes.

Certainly, when I was writing it I was aware of a tension here and was uncomfortable myself about the subject matter and anxious about how best to handle it. But that discomfort seemed to be a reason for persevering.

In addition, the story had a momentum of its own. It told itself out and I wrote it down. To non-writers, that may sound like a cop out. But sympathetic writers reading this will – I hope – acknowledge that we are at the mercy of our ideas and the stories they spawn. We go where they lead us.

Of course, we have to make decisions along the way. Even once we’ve committed to a story, we’re not bound to include everything that occurs to us. And we are at liberty to hone and craft the raw material that our subconscious presents to us. To refine it, in other words.

And when we’ve written something, we’re certainly not obliged to publish it.

No book is ever perfect. Perhaps the best we can hope for, as writers, is to produce interesting mistakes. I’m not going to try and justify the decisions I made in writing that book. I do acknowledge that some people will react strongly to it. Booklist described it as ‘repellent’ – and that was in a positive (starred) review: “Mesmerizing, repellent, bizarre, intelligent, dark, provocative… utterly fascinating…” 

The reviewer in the Historical Novel Society was more overtly disapproving, saying that the book had ‘a sordid flavor’, due, apparently, to my inability to rise above my subject matter. At the same time, the same reviewer did acknowledge that ‘[t]he early 20th century distaste for homosexuality that colors Quinn’s vocabulary is convincing’.

What’s certainly true is that I didn’t have to choose that subject matter. I didn’t have to write that book. I knew it would be a difficult subject to tackle and a difficult book to write. I knew that some people would find it shocking. Perhaps I was even more than a little shocked by it myself.

But it stands as a product of my imagination. I believe I have a duty to own up to it. To publish it and stand by it. Not necessarily to explain it, though.

In the words of the old adage, to publish and be damned.

As my Facebook friend, who is also a writer, acknowledged, every time we writers put something out there we put everything on the line. When someone takes issue with what we’ve written, or an aspect of it, it can feel like a personal attack. But it isn’t.

In fact, I welcome every honest reaction to my work. I’d love to hear yours.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Provoking Strong Reactions.”

  1. “…the best we can hope for, as writers, is to produce interesting mistakes.” Totally agree, Roger. And at some point, you just have to let it go. Then you spend the rest of your life wishing you’d refined it and honed it and polished it some more.

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