Sunday, November 05, 2006

I’d Rather Drive a Truck

By C. L. Beck

It’s only fair to warn you—since I usually write fluff and stuff—that this blog is serious. Why am I warning you? It’s a matter of trust.

Lately at the Authors Incognito website, emails have been flying about a well-known writer that often changes his morals from one book to the next. Some people stated they refused to read his books because of it.

One of our bloggers, W. L. Elliott, posted this thought: “I feel I should be able to trust someone who claims to believe in the same values as I do . . .”

It got me thinking. Do we owe anything to readers in terms of keeping their trust?

I know that as a reader nothing turns me off faster than an author who has betrayed my trust and changed their style without giving fair warning. If their language is normally clean, I expect that to continue. If they usually have a humorous thread, I expect they’ll occasionally be funny. Not that they can't change and grow, but a vast, sudden departure from their norm is a betrayal.

It's a guarantee on my part that if J. K. Rowling ups the ante on swear words, or puts two of those teenage kids in bed together in the last Harry Potter, I will never read another book of hers. I'm so sincere about this that when the last book comes out, I'm planning to wait for a review from a good friend before buying it. If Rowling betrays my trust, I won't plunk a half-penny on the sales counter or even crack the cover of the book out of curiosity.

Right now, I'm worried about that. She stated the later books will be more 'mature'. Is she saying that 'mature' is a euphemism for amoral? Should I consider that to be fair warning? Maybe trust doesn’t matter to her; she's already making quadrillions a year off Harry Potter. It does matter to me, however. I’ve placed my faith in her.

If as writers we have a certain trust we're obligated to maintain, how do we branch out into new, soul-stretching areas without betraying that trust? If we normally write light, fun stuff, and we have a sinister plot in our heads, are we never allowed to move over to the dark side?

The story goes that singer Ricky Nelson was invited to sing at Madison Square Garden, but it’d been a number of years since he’d had a hit song. When he got there and sang the new music he was working on, the crowd got annoyed. They wanted to hear the ‘oldies but goodies’ they remembered as hits.

Legend has it that shortly afterwards, Nelson penned the song, Garden Party, as a way to express his frustration. He ended the song by stating that if memories were all he sang, he'd rather drive a truck.

Most writers feel the same way. No one wants to be cast into a mold, crammed into a style we’ve outgrown, writing the same old stuff until our life is over and we’re just a dusty memory on a library shelf. However, whether we want it or not we have an obligation of trust toward our readers. If we want to branch out, we can use a pseudonym, give warning in a foreword, or announce it on the jacket cover. For the rich and famous, there’s always the avenue of talk shows and radio promotions.

I’m sure there are other means beyond those, but it's past lunch time, I'm "rumbly in my tumbly" and my mind is more focused on a ham and cheddar on rye than on trust. Besides, I’m not one of those writers who need to worry about it. My genre is fluff and stuff . . . and that’s a good place for me.


Keith Fisher said...

Thank you. several weeks ago when I asked for opinions on this subject, this is exactly what I was looking for? you have a very good way of putting things and I agree with you. However, I worry about my writing. some of the harder parts of my life sometimes come out and I have to delete whole chapters, pray about it and start again.

I also want to be known for my trustworthy writing. I made a commitment and I will keep it.

Thank you for your great example and I hope you get back on your feetsies very soon.

Anonymous said...

Great points. I used to love Marion Zimmer Bradley. I even told people who trusted me how wonderful her books were. Then I hit her later works which are filled with sex and also heavily promote homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. That was hard.

She did put a foreward in one of her novels, saying that when she started writing, those topics were taboo and how she wished she could go back and rewrite all her stories the way she really wanted them to be.

I didn't read any of her books after that.

C. L. Beck said...

Keith, I know what you mean. Almost everyone has a side to their life that seems to creep out on paper unbidden. It's a testament to your integrity that you try to remain true to your readers' expectations.

(Thanks for the get well wishes!)

C. L. Beck said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment. Now if I ever pick up a book my Marion Zimmer Bradley, I'll know what to expect. It's frustrating when you enjoy an author and they change their style. I think, for the reader's sake, an author is better off using a pseudonym in that instance.