Tuesday, April 27, 2021

How Did You Like It?


Terry Shames here, answering our question of the week: 

When a reader takes the time to find your email address and compose a letter telling you they don’t like your books, how do you respond? How would you like to respond, if that’s different? 

 Since I’ve never had that happen, it’s a strange question to answer. I don’t know what I would do it someone took the trouble to write and say they didn’t like my books. Usually it’s the opposite—I’ve read all your books, now when is the next one coming out? 

Cover of the last Craddock book!

 But that doesn’t mean people don’t like them. I don’t often read my Amazon reviews, but I have seen a couple in which readers gifted me with less than sterling reviews because the books are “slow.” The fact is, they’re right. I write a small-town Texas police procedural. Samuel Craddock is an older protagonist. He’s methodical and thoughtful. 

There isn’t a lot of action, if you don’t count murder as action. I’m more interested in relationships, and how things go so bad for someone that murder seems their only way out. I’m also interested in how gossip and secrets work in a small town. I want to explore social issues in a setting in which people know each other well and a small shift in attitude can affect a lot of people. I’ve addressed issues of hypocrisy, greed, how the past affects the present, family dynamics, violence, and police brutality. I’ve never had anyone write to tell me I shouldn’t do that. 

 I’ve only had one really unhappy review, and I discovered it two years after the book was published. The reviewer thought the events in the book couldn’t possibly be true. I guess he’s never known a woman who was abused by a family member. The odd thing was that with that negative review, I felt as if I’d finally arrived as a full-fledged writer. Bad reviews are part of what we invite when we put our work out there. 

 Although I’ve never had a reader tell me they didn’t like my books, occasionally I get an email in which the writer tells me I’ve gotten something wrong. I had one from a man who wanted me to write more thoroughly about motorcycles. He went on for two pages about what I could have put into the book. But he wasn’t angry or upset, and he seemed to like the book—he just wanted more motorcycles. 

Another reader took umbrage with my description of alfalfa fields, telling me that alfalfa didn’t grow in Texas. I wrote back and thanked him for his correction, telling him that I relied on my daddy’s information. And, in fact, alfalfa does grow in Texas, but I decided not to argue. Yet another reader declared that I couldn’t actually be from Texas, and I actually knew nothing about the state because my characters didn’t use the terms “y’all” or “ain’t.” I didn’t use the terms because in my family the two terms were used ironically rather than in everyday speech. But she was right; those terms are widely used. In my next book, as an homage to her, I had a character who used both. 

 I recently had a talk with a book club whose members had carefully read my first book. They asked some tough questions about motivation and about the psychological life of the characters. A couple of them said they had “problems” with the motivation of one of the characters. I guess that ‘s the closest I’ve gotten to someone saying they didn’t like a book. And I hope it will always be that way.


Catriona McPherson said...

That pic is exactly my vision of Samuel!

Unknown said...

When are you publishing your next book?