Recently, I’ve been puzzled by some of the feedback from readers that I got.
But before I start explaining, let me say that this is not about a writer whining about negative or critical feedback. I appreciate constructive criticism, and I try to learn from it. In fact, if sites such as Amazon provided e-mail addresses I’d contact readers who pointed out flaws in my books and ask them to test read my works in progress.
So let me explain what’s so puzzling about the feedback I got.
I stumbled across a review of Conflict of Interest on Amazon. One reader titled her review “Too Bi-Sexual,” and complained that the book is predominantly about bisexual women.
And a reader review of Backwards to Oregon on Amazon (not by the same reader) said that there’s too much “implied (short of graphic) m/f intimacy.” The reader suggested I should have cut the first thirty pages of Backwards to Oregon — that’s the part that shows Nora’s life in the brothel.
Another reader sent me feedback, saying she enjoyed Conflict of Interest “despite the hetero sex” in it. I asked the reader to what she was referring, but she never answered, so I’m left wondering. Is she referring to the fact that a few of the characters were in relationships with men before? Or — and I hope that’s not what she meant — does she see being raped at gunpoint as “hetero sex”?
I also had one e-mail from a reader who said she would have enjoyed Second Nature more without the heterosexual romance.
All of that made me wonder if someone is adding hetero sex scenes / romances to my books while I’m not looking :-) There are no heterosexual love scenes in any of my books. None.
So, I have two separate issues with that kind of feedback:
Exploitation of women (Nora’s work in a brothel) and rape should never be confused with sex. Sex always includes a choice. If a woman is raped or forced to work as a prostitute, she has no choice — not if she wants to survive. It’s in no way “hetero sex,” and it’s not an indication of her sexual orientation.
I’m aware that I chose to write about sensitive subjects, and I can understand if readers don’t want to have any mention of rape or prostitution in their romance novels. Many of us read to escape the hard reality of life, after all. But if a reader reads the back cover blurb and buys the story, she (or he) knows that my characters’ lives are touched by that kind of violence and hardship.
Should I have cut the first thirty pages of Backwards to Oregon and merely mentioned that Nora had worked in the brothel?
My answer is no. I wanted to SHOW her life in the brothel, not just TELL the reader about it. In my opinion, it was needed to explain her motivation for marrying Luke. If Nora hadn’t been desperate to change her life, she never would have agreed to marry a perfect stranger.
So, there is no “hetero sex” in any of my stories.
But yes, there are men in my books, and there are bisexual women, and sometimes I have heterosexual couples in my books.
There aren’t as many bisexual women as the “too bi-sexual” review implies, though. If it takes a character a while to figure out that she’s gay, does that make her bisexual? In my opinion, the answer is clearly no. Personally, I see Dawn, Aiden, and Jorie as lesbians, even though they’ve been with men. Just because they’re not gold-star lesbians doesn’t mean they’re any less lesbian than Del, Griffin, or Luke.
Kade and Tess are clearly bisexual, though, and Nora might be bisexual too. I don’t see anything “wrong” with that. Isn’t there a place for bisexual women falling in love with a woman in lesbian fiction?
And why shouldn’t lesbian romances have male supporting characters? Or heterosexual couples? I assume that most lesbians have male and/or heterosexual friends and family members. We’re surrounded by at least 90% straight people. Good people, if they are there by our choice. So why should I write a book about just lesbians, with not even one straight acquaintance? And why do all the straight characters need to be either single or in unhappy relationships? Why can’t I at least mention happy straight relationships? It makes no sense to me.
In Second Nature, I have one of Griffin’s sisters be gay and in love with a wonderful woman. So what’s so wrong about showing that her other, straight sister is in a happy relationship too, as long as neither of the subplots takes over the novel?
I also don’t want to portray men as the bad guys in my novels. Yes, there might be villains or antagonists who are men, but I always try to have some good guys too.
So while I know it won’t please some readers, Hidden Truths will have all of that too: men who are great friends, bisexual or lesbian characters who have been with men before, and heterosexual couples who pick flowers for each other after thirty years of marriage.
Readers, how do you pick the books you read? Does it matter to you if there are male / straight / bisexual characters in the book?
Fellow writers, what kind of characters do you choose for your novels? Have you ever had similar reactions from readers?