Charlaine Harris and the Dead Ever After mishap (Please read entry in its entirety before commenting, TY)

I feel the need to start this off by reminding people (as I've stated in previous posts, most notably, the one about 50 Shades of OMG, how can people read this?) that I don't make my statements to pick fights, rile up fans of the book/books in question, or otherwise troll. I say what I say because it's how I feel, and, like anyone else, sometimes I just need to get something off my chest. See, there's two positions in life in which you can say whatever you like- the first, being that you're 'somebody', so you have the confidence and place to say what you like, and hey, maybe someone will listen and take what you have to say to heart. The second, is being a 'nobody,' in which case, you have the freedom to say what you like, 'cause no one is really listening to you.

I have the ability to admit that I am the latter. A nobody, at the moment. So I can say what I like. I know you're probably thinking I'm about to turn into growling, snarling, Super Bitch, given this lead-in, but I'm really not, I just like to establish my standing before diving into things.

Now, on with my nonsense!

To begin, I need to point out that I have not (and will not) read the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series (or, as the original series title holds, The Southern Vampire Mysteries). I stopped at Book 10, which, I believe was Dead in the Family. I stopped there with good reason. I felt the plot was thin, and that the bulk of the book (if not the entirety of it) was not actually something Ms. Harris' heart was in. Period, it felt like a work she was pressured to write, or that she felt she 'had' to write.  In hindsight, I have since (meaning, just yesterday, when I was combing through the reviews for Dead Ever After), come to understand that this was, in fact the case. Ms. Harris said she was pressured into extending the series beyond the 8 books she originally wanted to write.

My issue with Dead in the Family was how much of that book, which was thin in comparison to her previous volumes, centered around Eric educating Sookie on vampiric political-territorial terms. >_>  Okay, great, but my problem was that in 9 books leading up to that, Sookie had been all sorts of mixed up in vampire affairs, and she never once heard any of this. Fine, alright, okay, maybe this was because these were terms never used in the company of non-vamps, ever. There, understandable point, so I'll go ahead and leave that as it is. Like I said, the writing felt forced, like she wasn't enjoying it. I've always been of the mind that if you're writing something you don't enjoy writing, the readers are going to pick up on that. I was so disappointed. I pre-ordered that book, waited for weeks, and then when I read the last word, I closed it and stared at the back cover for a long time, wondering what the hell I'd just muddled through. Kind of like how I felt after I closed the back cover of Twilight- I was like "Um, sure, it's okay, but WTF is everyone losing their mind over this book for?" But I digress.

Now, if you're familiar enough with the series, and have read enough of the spoiler-tastic reader reviews, then you don't actually need to read the final book in the series to know what happens. This is part of the problem when you enrage loyal, long-time readers. Now, as a reader and an author (albeit still new to the 'official' author gig), I'd like to kind of speak on both sides of this issue between Ms. Harris and her very dissatisfied readership.

Ms. Harris has come out and explained that she initially wanted the series to end as it finally did, but felt pressured to expand it. She decided after the first few books in the series just how she wanted it to end. My issue with her action is this- not that she made the ending that she wanted to happen happen, but that she essentially disavowed statements and actions in the previous novels to make that ending come about. There were many more ways in which she could have gone about the ending of the series and having the characters not commit spiritual-emotional ritual suicide. One reviewer said it felt like she simply was tired of the series and wanted to get the ending out, period. Sadly, I do have to agree from the bulk of the opinions I read.

That being said, there was nothing particularly wrong with what she did. Before enraged SVM fans get uppity with me, let me explain.  As she stated, they are her characters, and this is her world. She DOES have the right to do with it as she pleases. I read one review in which a reader was very upset about this statement and commented that once a writer shares their work with others, the characters belong to the author AND the readers. I don't believe that's so. Do we come to love the characters? Yes. Do we come to feel the characters pain? Yes, do we cringe and want to throw the book when our favorite character does something stupid? YES. But that does not make the creation of another person ours. We have no ownership over that character just because we've been allowed a glimpse into their lives over the years.

I feel that if she'd simply accounted for everything that happened in the rest of the series, then the readers would not be so angry. They would not feel cheated.The problem was that the wind down to all of those events, the necessary connections to make Sam the final love interest would likely have taken a few more books to work out properly, and I could be wrong, but I think maybe Ms. Harris just wanted to end it, and be done with it. Sadly, however, what this means is that when the readers complain that the final installment of SVM was, in fact, forced, they're absolutely correct.

In the pressure she felt to carry the series on longer, it grew, it became something other than what she planned. Anyone that's ever set a pen to paper and breathed life into a character knows that this happens often. We, as the readers, were treated to a lot of fun, crazy moments that might not have happened otherwise, but in taking us on those initially unplanned adventures, she veered away from her intended path for the story, and in the end, she took the wheel  back  and , I hate to put it this way, crashed the series into the Cul de Sac where she originally wanted everything to end.

Should she have handled it more thoughtfully in regards to her characters? Probably. But it was her right not to do so.

The readers, as well, do have the right to feel a little . . . cheated. Hear me out. These are characters they've come to love, stories they've waited with bated breath to read, and stayed up ALL night to partake in. After 12 books, they've come to expect a level of story crafting, and of writing that, according to so many, the final volume simply did not have. They ARE entitled, but not in the way Ms. Harris intended the term. They're entitled to their feelings. She made them fall in love with these characters, and care about them as if they were real people, and then, to put it simply, did them all dirty- characters and readers, alike.

It's unfair to talk of how she was pressured to write extra books, basically unintended stories (a fact previously unknown by most of her readership), which all became bestsellers, and then turn around and call her readers vicious names because they're unhappy with a last book that felt, to them, like it was a half-hearted effort. The readers are the ones who made her a best selling author. They loved her, and loved the world and the people she created. And then she wrote a volume in which these beloved, familiar, characters no longer resembled themselves. The final volume, so they're left with no hope, no where to go from here. But they get called horrible names because they feel robbed of what should have been a great ending to a great series? That's just wrong, no matter which side of this issue you're on.

Don't get me wrong, writing can be damned hard. I'm not going to sit here and pretend it would have been easy for her to turn this particular vehicle around to get back to the road she started on, but if she's put her all into side-stories that were never intended, how can she force out the ending she prefers with not nearly as much care, and then simply sit back and say "You don't like it? You entitled, ungrateful readers, how dare you!"

I think Ms. Harris is angry, very angry, about how this book was received. On the one hand, I can't blame her. You don't want to be told your book is bad, no one does. This is a woman with numerous bestsellers, and she's handling the criticism in what could be considered an unprofessional manner, but hey, she's only human. However, she's so busy verbally defending herself, and her work, that I don't think she's given herself time to consider that, hey, the readers have feelings, too.

I'm not saying that she should have changed anything to suit the readers. Not at all. In fact, I feel like an author who caves to public opinion loses a bit of respect and credibility in their own work. If she simply said, I'm going to change this ending to make the readers happy, she wouldn't have been happy with the work, herself. This doesn't mean, however, that the ending couldn't have been handled in a less . ..  character-assassinationy sort of way. BUT . . . to act as though she owes the readers nothing, is also not the way to handle this. The readers made her who she is. Their hard-earned money went into making her books so popular. These readers have little pieces of Ms. Harris' heart and soul on their bookshelves. So, I think there's a bit of unfairness all around.

Do the readers have the right to tell her how her story 'could have' ended. No, not really, but that doesn't mean they don't HAVE the right to at least be upset.

People have been speculating if Ms. Harris is a narcissist based on her handling of reader response. Well, again, in all fairness, to blow up and say something like, "I'm the Queen of this Universe, how dare you tell me I'm making MY characters act OoC" . .. does kinda tip the scale that way. It may be true, but there had to be a less "Shut up, I'm the only one that matters in this issue" way to say it. It's insulting to tell the readers, after they've been living with these characters for so long, that they won't know when the characters aren't behaving like themselves. Just because they're your characters doesn't mean that anyway you write them is magically 'in-character behavior', especially if they are established characters in a long-running series. To say the readers don't know what they're talking about is essentially saying, "you're too stupid to notice if my characters are acting like themselves, or not."

Then there was the issue of Sookie and Bill ending on a sunshine and kittens, lets be friends forever note after he raped her a few books back (I'm so grateful I missed that installment). There are readers who are outraged at this because they, or people close to them, are survivors of sexual assault, and they feel this to be a callous and insensitive way to have handled the end of the Bill-Sookie thing. And I'm gonna have to side with the readers on this. I had a story in which the main character is shown to have been raped when she was a teenager, told in an in-the-moment hindsight. I was terrified about putting that chapter up for readers (the story was on fictionpress.com at the time), because I thought if there were any rape survivors that were reading it, I would offend them, or they would feel I handled the situation carelessly, or unrealistically. I tried to be as real, and yet as delicate, about the scenario as I could. And it turned out I did have a reader who'd been through this traumatic experience. She reached out to me and told me that I handled it well. I know that couldn't have been easy for her to say, but I was glad I went with my instincts about how to deal with such a sensitive subject. I think Ms. Harris could have saved herself a lot of anger, and aggravation, had she simply treated her characters like people in the end.

Lastly, the readers are angry about the message. For a long time, they have been told that the vampire community was a metaphor for the gay & minority communities of the real world. They struggled, and fought, and triumphed, and lost, and struggled some more . . . all to have Sookie end up right where she began, and everyone getting the message that they're all better off with their own kind. Here's the problem I  have with that. I don't think Ms. Harris was concerned with the message, anymore. I don't think she was trying to say anything, I think her only concern, as she wrote this book, was to end her story the way she wanted, period.





Comments

  1. I read the first two/three books in the series, ages ago, but dropped off, I forget why. Anyway, I have no emotional connection to it. As a reader, I can totally relate to the feeling of being tight with fictional characters/their worlds and sort of "owning" them. As a writer, I feel like my characters are my people and they give me the exclusive on what's up with them. In any event, I feel that artists of all stripes must be true to their visions, no matter what.
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. That's exactly it- both sides have merit to how they feel, and both sides are both right and wrong about how they're handling their feelings. My only real problem with it is that Ms. Harris is swearing up and down that she stayed true to her characters, not because she had them behaving according to the way she's portrayed them for so many years, but because they're her characters, thus any way she writes them behaving makes it 'in character behavior', and you and I (and any writer who's built a character) knows that this isn't the case. She had an ending she wanted for years, but that defied the character development and actions that took place in the years between, and went ahead and forced the ending she wanted even though the way she handled it no longer made sense given everything that had transpired. I'm not saying she shouldn't have given it the ending she wanted- she absolutely should have stuck to her guns- but she could have still brought that about in a way thatwould have fit with the characters

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