Reader Blackmail: This Letter Bums Me Out

I received the following email this morning:

I enjoy these books — mostly. The characters are believable, the setting and descriptions lush, the plots not requiring too much “suspension of disbelief” and of course, the cats. I have read only three of the series and want to read more; however, I am tired of stories relying on the woman-in-peril endings and am ready to give up the rest of the series if they all end this way.

That’s the email in its entirety. Now, first of all, let me just say that I get lots of letters and emails from readers — really wonderful emails, full of encouragement and constructive criticism. I love them. I’m thankful for them. Truly. An email from a reader can totally make my day.

Does it go without saying that a letter like this does not make my day?

Perhaps I’m too sensitive. If I wasn’t so sensitive, I could “mostly” focus on the nice comments. Lush descriptions and settings… believable characters… And anyway, I should be grateful anybody even cares enough about my work to write me in the first place. Right?

But it’s not enough…

This letter bums me out.

Maybe, I tell myself, it’s just the letter-writer’s tone, lacking as it is in the common niceties of polite etiquette. There’s no finesse. No one is Dear in this letter. No one closes Sincerely or Truly.

But that’s not it. I know exactly what it is. The vague, sinking lypophrenia I get from a letter like this comes from the bald, ugly threat at its core — the manifesto of every bully, every despot, every abuser:

“Do what I want, or I’ll do something to hurt you.”

You can trace the origins of just about everything bad that’s ever happened in the history of mankind to that simple sentiment… war, genocide, terrorism, slavery, spousal abuse, child abuse, abandonment, blackmail, murder.

Am I over-reacting? Am I crazy to think that all the world’s evil begins with a careless thought, like a tiny hemlock seed in the fertile soil of our collective consciousness?

Ha. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive. I’d hate to think what kind of writer I’d be if I wasn’t.

Dear Reader,

Thank you so much for your email. I appreciate your thoughts. I have to admit, at first I was kind of hurt by your bluntness, but then I got over it. I’ll definitely think about the whole “woman-in-peril” thing. Although it’s tricky… I write murder mysteries. About a woman. Throw a woman in the ring with a murderer and it’s damn near impossible to avoid some good old-fashioned woman-on-peril action, but I promise I’ll try as hard as I can to make it as thrilling and entertaining as possible. If, in the end, you’re still unhappy, I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll love. There are so many good writers and good books out there. Maybe stick to the ones with a male protagonist? Or if that doesn’t help, maybe a different genre? I’m rereading Tobias Wolff’s “The Night In Question” and oh my gosh it’s so good. Thanks again and happy reading!

Yours Truly,

John

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14 thoughts on “Reader Blackmail: This Letter Bums Me Out

  1. You are one VERY KIND writer to send such a nice comment to someone who should stay in their unpleasant world of complaints and nonsense!!!! PLEASE do not be discouraged — the books are such a wonderful “escape” into mystery, animals, and human adventure. One “bad apple” must not be allowed to influence what you do.

  2. Tired of the “woman in peril”? Gee, that’s too bad. What does the reader expect? The series is about a woman cat sitter who finds herself in the most unusual situations that place her, yes, in peril. The reader can just stop reading the Cat Sitter’s books. She won’t be missed. Know why? Because each and every day, there is a new reader who is just discovering the Cat Sitter’s mysteries and falling in love with them. John, you handled that well (a lot better than most of us would). We’re proud of you and love that you continue the Cat Sitter’s mysteries. Keep up the great work! We are anxiously awaiting the next one to see what Dixie gets herself mixed up in this time.

  3. Dear John,
    That was my thought too as I was reading her comments. How can you have an exciting mystery with an amateur woman sleuth without her being in peril?

    Woman-in-peril *is* a played out trope but only in so much as the ‘damsel tied to a railroad track to be rescued by the big strong man’ is tired. Woman-in-Peril becomes Empowered Woman when she outsmarts the bad “guy” and rescues herself. And, in doing so, subtly shifts the landscape away from the tired aspect and it becomes Human-in-Peril … who just happens to be a woman.

    In the immortal words of Anna from Hudson Hawk, “I got bored so I rescued myself.”

    Virtual hug until I see you at Malice, again.

    Sincerely,
    Aimee

  4. That’s a good response, but really you shouldn’t feel obligated to that one reader. I read lots of books, and if I really like one by an author, I’ll read another one. If I don’t like the next one, sometimes I don’t read another one by him/her. But I don’t TELL the author what I don’t like. (I might post on Goodreads what I don’t like.) 🙂

    One of my most embarrassing moments in life was in grad school when an author came to speak, and practically every student was required to read one of his books for a class. I went to the reception and got in line to meet him; I said “I really liked the story, but I felt it could have been told without all the curse words.” (Okay, I was naive.) He said “Clearly, I didn’t.” End of discussion.

    You write for YOU, not that reader. Make yourself happy first. If you feel that you’ve maintained the integrity of the storyline and your characters, that’s all that matters.

  5. Perhaps she’d prefer a “cat-in-peril” ending? (No, probably not.) Mystery without some kind of peril strikes me as….dull. And your books are NEVER dull! Keep writing, please!

  6. John, if I didn’t like you already, I would have loved you after reading this. Ah, heck, I do love you for writing this. The very thing you mentioned is what stuck out to me. You were threatened by the reader to change your writing or said reader would stop reading your books. Ha! Let her! (I’m assuming it a her) You have thousands of us readers that aren’t going anywhere!

  7. John,

    You are an amazing and talented writer and if you doubt that for one moment, consider that it would take a remarkable writer to pick up the baton from another much loved author, and continue to keep the original authors audience while expanding your readership. You have not only captured all that was wonderful in your Mother’s book, but you continue to grow and develop the storyline and character in a way uniquely your own while honoring all that was delightful from Blaize.

  8. John, love the characters in your books. Don’t bother replying to these type of individuals, just hit the delete button when you see the negative comments. Works like a charm!

  9. Dear Blaize & John, (Yes I do think of your Mom, she brought so many happy memories of fantastic stories and FUN!) For isn’t that what the stories are about? You can indulge in a cookie once in awhile dear reader. Have sensible meals, read your plot heavy books but LOTs of my readers choose happy books that can be enjoyed with a bowl of popcorn. John, keep up the good work…”don’t stop believing.” Cheryl

  10. Dear John,

    This is an e-mail from France. I love the books written by your mother , I have not yet read what you wrote. I am reading THE CAT SITTER PAJAMAS and I just love it. I laugh a lot and appreciate to know that it will end well, what is interesting is not the end but the adventure with Dixie and the animals, the details, the psychology of the characters, the world she opens to us readers.Being also a painter, I can tell you that the process of painting is more interesting to me that the final painting.Therefore, the trip that we share with Dixie is more attractive to me than the ending of the book. Maybe that reader should read action books ??

    One last thing. The books are not available in French language and I would love to translate them.I have been teaching English all my life but I am going to stop at the end of this year. I would really love to translate Blaize¹s novels, if you think that this is financially interesting.

    Anyway, best wishes for your books full of positive and refined feelings.

    Marie ange Campagnolo 14, rue Sainte Cécile 54000 Nancy. France.

  11. Please John, don’t change anything in your books. I have loved Dixie from the very first book and I have read them all. I’m sorry your feeling were hurt but the letter writer was not very kind to you and this person only speaks for themself.

  12. John, I have loved all of the Dixie Hemingway stories. I started reading them when I moved to Sarasota 10 years ago. I have read them all as they have become available. I include them in sand-less beach bags I make for friends and include a map of the area. I am moving to Michigan and will continue to do this (we have beaches there too). I really don’t want the series to ever end.

  13. I hope she learned something from your gracious response. The truth is that in this world of ours, even a bright, careful, sensible woman can find herself in peril. Your books show that a strong, brave, resourceful woman can come through in one piece. Now reminded of Chesterton: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

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