21 April 2009

Just Desserts - McCall Smith style

    Why is the writer of detective fiction put under such pressure to deal out just desserts to wrongdoers? The truth is that for many of us fiction is in some sense real and that what happens to fictional people is, in a curious way, happening in the real world.
This comes from an article by Alexander McCall Smith that was originally published in The Wall Street Journal, and then republished in the Weekend Australian. It makes very interesting reading. McCall Smith took up a suggestion by one reader that his character Isabel Dalhousie should have a relationship with one of the other characters, a male 14 years younger than her. Then rather predictably, another reader, at a book signing, told him it was a bad idea, after he had incorporated it in the next book.

I'm not sure how much notice writers normally take of their critics and readers, but certainly McCall Smith has made himself available and approachable in a number of ways. In the case of both 44 SCOTLAND STREET and CORDUROY MANSIONS, both published as serials in daily newspapers, he made a point of suggesting that readers could give him feedback and suggestions about characters and plot points.

Do you know of other authors who welcome this sort of reader participation?
I read a comment by an author recently when he said that a negative review had "scarred him for life".
Would you be game to tell an author face to face what he or she had got wrong? At a book signing?


Uriah Robinson said...

I have prepared a short analysis of my reasons for a negative review I wrote last year just in case the author approaches me at Crime Fest in a few weeks. But I might hide behind the bar instead although the author in question is a very attractive lady and I am sure would not be aggressive. ;o)
Authors should welcome feedback after all "only weaklings suffer no criticism".

Kerrie said...

Earlier this year I posted a fairly negative review of a book Norman.
I quoted excerpts from the book to illustrate the points I was making and the author asked me to remove them. I guess I really didn't have to do that - I wasn't infringing "fair use" copyright - but I did, but obviously the author felt a negative review just shouldn't be published.
I'm not sure I would want to meet him face to face though, even though I think once the ice was broken, I could tell hin quite clearly where I thought he had gone wrong.

Bernadette in Australia said...

I can't think of any other writers who do that although I have some vague notion that Stephen King did it once with one of his stories. But I'm too tired to google it just now.

I try very hard not to make personal comments about the author when I write bad reviews (i.e. all the comments are about the book and I try to use examples where I can). Thus, I don't think I have ever written anything that I wouldn't say to the person's face (people who know me in the real world will tell you this is the blessing and curse of being my friend). I've had a couple of authors contact me about things I posted to Good Reads (pre blog days) and I didn't change what I had written. If someone - a film maker, an artist, a writer, a blogger - puts their creativity out in the market place they have to accept that they will receive the whole gamut of reviews and if they can't deal with that then they probably need a different career.

I have two favourite quotes that are pertinent. One was from David Brinkley (a US news anchor) who said that A successful person is the one who builds a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him

The other is from Elbert Hubbard who was a writer of some very rah rah essays about success and completing your mission and that sort of thing. They got quoted a lot during the dozens of team motivational workshops I was forced at gunpoint to attend in the 90's but I do like the sentiment behind "To avoid criticism say nothing, be nothing, do nothing" (although I've probably got the order wrong - I usually do)

Sorry Kerrie for the long rambly comment.

Kerrie said...

I appreciate the lengthy comment Bernadette. Makes a lot of sense. I like those quotes you've given.


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