Reading,  Regency,  Writing

Reader Mail!

No, this isn’t about the upcoming new movie adaptation of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, even though I’m eagerly looking forward to it.

It’s about reader mail and its effect on the writer.

First I have to say I’ve enjoyed all the reader mail I’ve received so far. Most of the letters I’ve gotten were from people who enjoyed my books, along with a few from people who just wanted to share something they loved about the Regency. Even when readers don’t care for my books, it’s fascinating to find out what they are thinking. This one, from a reader I won’t name, is no exception!

Elena Greene:

My Lion roars his disgust, as to (sic) I after wading thru page after page of explicit sex in Saving Lord Verwood which I just finished. Yuk!

You are an excellent writer and the plot was good keeping one’s interest. I know explicit sex (leaving nothing to the imagination) seems to be the in thing. Surely with your writing ability you do not need to pander to or wallow in the antics that go on in the bedroom. Hopefully the trend will turn again toward decency.

With kindest thoughts I remain a Regency reader.

(name excluded)

P.S. Would you really want your young daughters to read such trash?

Initially, I felt a bit stunned by this letter. I’d never received anything like it before, and it wasn’t as if I were the first author to put a sex scene into a traditional Regency. But mostly, I wondered whether I’d slept through writing all those pages and pages of “explicit sex”! Had the copy editor gone wild with it? I reopened the book and looked through and yes, the love scenes were there, just as I’d written them, not particularly graphic at all.

The adult part of me (that sometimes thinks it’s in charge) shook off the label of “trash”. I don’t write with the intent of offending anyone, but I know I can’t please everyone either. I am not writing children’s fiction, so the postscript didn’t shame me the way it was clearly intended to. So I exchanged some emails with my critique partners and we all laughed it off.

However, there’s another part of me–the subconscious mind, the muse, the inner artist child–call it what you want, it’s the place ideas come from. That part of me wants desperately to please everyone. Soon after receiving this letter, I reached the wedding night scene in LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE and found myself battling a fierce writer’s block. Finally until I realized that I was trying to write a scene that would 1) show, in a tender and realistic way, how the hero/heroine had overcome the problems of their earlier unhappy marriages and 2) not offend readers like this one. Rather impossible!

So the adult side of me counseled the kid. I told myself that one person’s spice is another’s poison and I had to be true to my voice and my characters. I also reminded myself that this particular reader had forced herself to read it, “page after page”! Perhaps writing the letter was just a way of easing her conscience over enjoying it?

Anyway, so far readers and reviewers are praising LDM. If at some point there are those who disagree, I can deal with it. Sometimes feedback may lead me to change my future work, but sometimes it just clarifies who I am as a writer.

So, my fellow authors, how do you deal with less-than-positive reader mail?

And readers, do please keep those emails and letters coming!

Elena 🙂
www.elenagreene.com/

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Cara King
17 years ago

Fascinating post, Elena! I have yet to get a reader letter, obviously, so I cannot comment on my experience! I think the thoughts you went through sound very natural, and I’m glad you worked it out! (I’m glad you didn’t let it mar LADY DEARING, which was fantastic!)

Cara

Megan Frampton
17 years ago

Keeping your audience in mind can be helpful, but it can also be imagination-numbing, as you point out. In my case, I had to forget I had parents who would read my words (my dad’s my research partner), friends, or even people I might meet on the street. I actually wrote my steamiest scene while wearing a back brace, unable to move because of back spasm. You just have to put it all out of your mind. I hope I’ll get one of those kinds of letters, Elena–means I’ve affected someone enough to make them write me. Cool!

Pam Rosenthal
17 years ago

That was an intelligent, lovely, tolerant post, Elena. Let me swagger on stage now as the bad cop.

If I received this letter, I’d be tempted to take the PS very seriously — and to respond. I don’t have daughters but my friends and family do (and I DO keep these girls in mind — I write to their curiosity and bravery). It’s always been part of my goal to write to the hidden baby-sitter within all of us.

If I received this letter, I’d want to tell its author that writing explicit sex well and beautifully and honestly is probably the one tiny way I’ve made the world a better place (besides, of course, raising a terrific kid — knock on wood and kinnehorra).

I wouldn’t mind being told I write trash — we’re blessed to write in a language that has always had a vibrant popular culture. But I couldn’t be tolerant of anyone who can’t tell the difference between what I do and “pandering.” If it were me, I think I’d want to find a well-turned way to tell this reader this.

Pam

ps (kinnehorra is a yiddish invocation for keeping away the evil eye — like when you say how terrific your kid is, and then you’re afraid fate will punish you for your pride. Sort of like saying “knock wood” except I don’t believe it works unless you say it in yiddish)

Janet Mullany
17 years ago

Elena, I think it’s a tribute to you that she finished your book even tho she had to “wade thru page after page of explicit sex”!
I’ve had some very nice letters from readers, and only one comment from someone whose sense of decency was outraged–and that was on Amazon. She thought DEDICATION had too much sex.
Too much sex? Isn’t that the equivalent of too rich and too thin? I was upset about it at first, and then considered she was doing me a favor!
Janet

Amanda McCabe
17 years ago

This was a very interesting post, Elena! If she thought she had to wade through “pages and pages of sex” in your book, maybe we should send her to Pam’s? LOL. I’ve been lucky thus far in getting mostly polite emails and letters from readers, with a couple pointing out some “oops” moments I had. But there was this one creepy letter I got from a prisoner…

Everyone has different ideas on what a romance novel (especially a Regency) should be. It took me a long time to just tune them all out and write my stories the way I saw them. Their whispers still creep in sometimes, but I do the best I can and hope that the people who like it outnumber the people who won’t. At the end of the day that’s all we can do. 🙂

Todd
17 years ago

I’m with Pam–if I’d gotten a letter like that, my reaction would not have been as forbearing as yours!

Of course, I’m not a romance author, so actually getting a letter like that would be quite unusual…”Dear Sir: I enjoyed your paper, but was disgusted by all the explicit sex in equation (3). Would you let a young grad student read such trash?”

I’ve written to authors a number of times, and have usually gotten very cordial replies. I remember a couple of nice notes from C.J. Cherryh, who is one of my favorite SF writers. Just a few lines, but it was good to know that she’d read and (apparently) appreciated my letters. I’ve also a few times written fairly lengthy critiques of nonfiction books, and had the authors write me quite long (and usually very friendly) letters in reply.

So, as much as authors like getting letters (or at least complimentary ones!), readers love hearing back from authors. At least, this reader does!

Todd-whose-grad-students-are-young

Elena Greene
17 years ago

I actually considered a bunch of responses to this letter, ranging from snarky to defensive. But I don’t like to get into flame wars (over email or through the post) and I didn’t get the feeling I was going to convert this lady anyway. What I probably would have done is send a gracious, agree-to-disagree sort of response, along with recommendations of good authors of “sweet” Regencies.

But–perhaps silly to admit–my decision ended up hinging on the fact that she didn’t enclose a SASE. At the time it seemed pointless to spend as much on postage as I’d earned from her book sale, to reply to someone who probably wouldn’t enjoy my next book.

I still don’t know if telling her my next book was going to be even sexier might have made her buy it just so she could enjoy complaining to me about it again!

Elena 🙂

Cara King
17 years ago

I agree with your actions on this letter, Elena. I think it’s clear the woman actually tried to soften her message, by saying things like “you are an excellent writer” and “surely with your writing ability…” — I imagine in her mind she was not being rude. (Well, I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt, because…well, why not? Surely someone who uses as many smileys and exclamation points as I do cannot afford to be critical.)

And once upon a time, there were some lines/imprints (like Harlequin’s erstwhile Regency line) where as a reader this woman could be pretty well certain of reading all the Regencies published without encountering anything terribly “warm.” But no more! I expect she is engaged on a doomed one-woman campaign to get Regency writers to all write G-rated books. (Some already are, of course, but some aren’t!)

Personally, I love that our editors allow our characters and stories to dictate the sensuality level. If the sensual bits had been stripped from LADY DEARING, the story would have made less sense…and on the other hand, if someone had made me put sensual bits into my book (which DOES happen to be G-rated) it would have betrayed the characters!

Cara
(okay, fine, just call me Pollyanna today)

Tess
17 years ago

Elena – LDM is high up on my TBR pile! I’ll let you know what I think once it makes it to the top *g*. As for your reader’s feedback, it’s clear this person has very definite ideas about what should and shouldn’t be included in a traditional Regency book. And yes, it’s impossible to please all the people all the time, no matter how much our inner child might want to do so.

Alyssa
17 years ago

This is my favorite part of the letter:

“wallow in the antics that go on in the bedroom”

Goodness. LOL! Actually, it sounds like she is the one who is wallowing.

I’m off to find Saving Lord Verwood so I can wade through page after page.

🙂
Alyssa

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