Judge my book, not me

To be clear–this isn’t a gripe about bad reviews of my books. I come from a music background. I’m pretty used to my art being torn to shreds. Are bad reviews ever pleasant for me to read? No. Do I obsess over comments ripping apart my writing skills (be it writing, character development, plot, etc)? Way too much (but I’m working on that) Do I accept bad reviews as part of being an author? Most definitely.

One thing I didn’t deal with so much in music was people making assumptions about who I am and what I stand for, based on my songs (granted, my lyrics were always pretty abstract). Sure, I got comments about my hair, my body, or my clothes. I was too young .Too old. Too this or that. One time someone told me I sang like Shakira ‘with a frog stuck in her throat’. Ouch, I know.

I’ve found that people judge authors more on the inside than the outside (although appearances do get bashed, don’t get me wrong) This experience of being judged as a person, of people I have never spoken to or met in my life publicly making statements about what they think I believe in and who I am….is brand new to me. Quite frankly, it’s not something I find easy to swallow. After getting a few emails and seeing several reviews where people are making assumptions about ME based on my book, I feel the need to put this out there. This isn’t just about me, though. I’ve seen my fellow authors go through this as well.

Straight up? I find reviews judging/making assumptions about the author as a person completely unfair. They aren’t helpful or really even useful. Book reviews should be just that–BOOK reviews. Yeah, I know there are some books out there where…come on…a certain belief or idea is pushed very heavily. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m not saying there aren’t authors out there who don’t have an agenda or message they are trying to push.

But…I’m not one of them.

Has autism affected my life in a very personal way? Yes, it has.

Is that what inspired me to tell Drea’s story? Of course.

Did I write Harmonic Feedback to wave my finger at the world and tell them what to think about Asperger’s or to try and ‘teach’ them something? That wasn’t my intention. As I said in my author’s note, I was telling one girl’s story and one girl’s story alone. The book wasn’t about defining Asperger’s or ADHD…because–quite frankly–nobody can do that. People on the spectrum are not boxes of symptoms, they are real, unique people who happen to have social difficulties.

Was Drea simply a vehicle to ‘push’ my views about autism? Absolutely not. Drea has some strong viewpoints…because that’s who she is. I’m not Drea. We do have similarities (our bluntness, for example), but we are quite different.

Why did I include an author’s note–if I’m not out to teach something? My publisher requested that I include the note because they thought it would be a good idea. I agreed to this because I thought people might like to know about my personal experience with autism, especially those on the spectrum.

Am I anti-drug or was I trying to teach a lesson about drugs? No. Drea didn’t like taking them..she didn’t feel they helped her. That being said, I know people who were very much helped by prescription medication, including myself. As a teen, I lost friends to drugs. At the time I felt pretty alone because I didn’t know how to help them. I felt responsible somehow… and I know a lot of teens feel this way at one point or another. My intention was to give those readers a story that made them feel less alone, not to tell them what choices to make or to promote some kind of ‘anti-drug’ message.

Am I promoting sex before marriage? Actually I’m going to direct you to John Green’s post about this…because I agree completely: http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/post/10644709551/do-you-believe-in-saving-sex-for-marriage

Do I think foul language is the only way to portray realism? No. But I do believe in being true to my characters. Some teens swear and some don’t.

Was I just jumping onto the ‘autistic narrator’ bandwagon, trying to get in on the success of books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night? Nope. In fact when I was writing Harmonic Feedback, there were very few autistic spectrum teen narrators out there. My book was sold two years before it was published. While there are a few more books out there with autistic narrators, I’d hardly call the market saturated with them. You could say the same for neurotypical teens. Are all neurotypical teen YA voices the same? Neither are the voices of teens on the spectrum, IMHO. Autism isn’t a ‘trend’…it’s a reality for a lot of people.

So…now I’d like to hear from you. When I’m reading…I almost never think about the author or what their intention is. I’m completely focused on the story (good or bad). Do you find yourself judging the author as you read or assuming the author is the main character? Why/why not? Don’t worry..I will respect all opinions here. I’m just really curious about other perspectives…

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5 Responses to Judge my book, not me

  1. I’d say a frog in Shakira’s voice would be an improvement, so perhaps that comment was intended to be flattery?

    Now here’s my really insightful, I’ve-been-working-on-self-improvement opinion. When people are mean, nasty, presumptuous, uninformed but spouting at the mouth, I NOW try to look at them as being emotionally under-developed instead of mean, nasty, presumptuous, uninformed but spouting at the mouth. That way, their mean nastiness does not fill my head with anger and resentment. This process is definitely a work-in-progress, but hopefully worth the effort. ~fingers crossed~

    With that said, in a really good story, I never find myself thinking about the author, but if the story is didactic, author intrusion pulls me out. But I can simply choose to stop reading, not bash the author. Dude.

  2. Dalya Moon says:

    I’m about to release a book that has teen characters doing things that teens do, and I’m a bit worried. People might think I, the author, like tequila and kissing a boy I just met! (I do, but I swear it’s a coincidence.) Perhaps as the antidote, I’ll write my next book about someone who judges everyone else and doesn’t have any fun at all. I expect it’ll be a best seller. :-)

  3. Tara,
    People who need to bloviate about agendas/messages they have divined about the author from a story are the ones with the agenda/message/axe to grind. People like that are cowards, because instead of taking a stand on an issue and speaking from their own platforms, they jump on someone else. Parasites.
    But I never find it helpful when people say things to me like “You need a thicker skin.”
    No, I don’t need a thicker skin. My skin lets my soul breathe. What I need is to do a better job of directing my attention to the stuff that matters. But that’s a whole lot easier said than done. Especially if I’m sad or tired or stressed.
    I don’t have anything really wise to say, just…do something nice for yourself.

  4. Hey, Tara: Don’t let the bastards grind you down. The world is full of haters. Just the way it is. Your novel was spot-on as far as representing someone with Aspergers Disorder, right down to the resistance to taking meds and the reality that they don’t work well for everyone. Neurotypicals may not get it, and in the advocacy community you’ll find lots of polarized viewpoints. Just keep writing; you’re an awesome writer with a unique voice. And send folks over to my blog this week to win a copy of Harmonic Feedback:
    Callie Kingston

    And a highlight at Oregon YA:
    Oregon YA

  5. Ashley says:

    The only time I end up judging the author based on the book is when it gets REALLY heavy handed- like being beaten over the head with a giant stick.

    But other than that, not at all. I read the book to read the book. I read Harmonic Feedback recently and LOVED it, but I never ever felt like I was being preached to, or having an idea pushed on me. I thought it was brilliantly done.