So recently, the following comment was posted on the site. It’s rare for anyone to post a negative comment on this site. Not because I don’t have my detractors, but because I’m just not important enough that many people feel like logging on to offer any criticism of that sort. So I guess I’m moving up in the world, gang!
So much praise, so you will probably not be too heartbroken if I offer some criticism?
I read “In the company of ogres”, and sort of liked it. But it was something about it…
Then I stopped reading, as the next books (or former) did not seem to appeal to me. I don’t know why.
Then I picked up “Monster”. And read it. Some of it was funny. Some of it was really funny.
But I did make the mistake of visiting your blog before I had finished the book. And I read what you said about “TOO MANY CURSES”, about you being proud of writing a novel without any real “shift” in characters, and no romance, and that being the point. Then it struck me. What I had problems with in “In the company…” I read the rest of “Monster”, with this thought in the back of my mind. Stuck, couldn’t get it out. I was expecting the same feeling I had when I finished “In the company…” And I got it. It might have been because I was expecting it. But I don’t think so.
The “problem” was that the stories seemed too much like “this happened, and then we went back to nothing (i.e. our ordinary lives)”. No closure, just “back to normal”.
So, you may be very satisfied you managed to write “too many curses” without any “shift” in the characters and no romance, but me personally, I am a bit dissatisfied that I feel you managed the same in “In the company…” and “Monster”.
I still might pick up your next book, though. Two books may not be enough to make a viable conclusion
Well, first of all, thanks for taking the time to post a comment. Good or bad, it’s always flattering when someone takes the time to offer their opinion. And you have some interesting ideas here. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but hey, that’s what makes life so damned intriguing, isn’t it?
I’m not interested in defending my work, of course. Neither of us are likely to change our minds, but since you went to the trouble of posting a comment, I thought I’d at least offer a reply. So here goes.
I think you’re misunderstanding my idea of no major shifts in character. I don’t mean that the characters don’t undergo some subtle changes in their personality through the events of the story. They just tend not to be radical shifts. Still they are profound and important elements to every story I write (with the possible exception of MONSTER, which I will get into in a bit).
Your assessment of IN THE COMPANY OF OGRES is intriguing, but I have to disagree quite a bit about character growth in that story. In particular, Never Dead Ned grows immensely. Ironically, he grows by accepting himself for who he is. Going “Back to normal”, as you put it, isn’t Ned refusing to grow. It’s Ned becoming exactly what he must. I know the books been out a few years now, but in the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t get any deeper than that.
Meanwhile, Regina has learned that there’s more to life than just kicking everyone’s ass. Frank has taken steps toward a relationship. And the soldiers of Ogre Company, while still a group of hard-luck misfits, are on their way toward becoming the military outfit they could always be.
True, none of this is a radical shift. But by the end of the novel, all the major characters better understand themselves and each other. It isn’t a huge alteration in their characters, but they are not the same people they were in the beginning of the story in many important ways.
As for TOO MANY CURSES, again, it’s difficult to quantify because, on the face of it, the protagonist starts out as a sensible, level-headed character and remains so throughout the book. But her transition from lowly servant to mistress of the castle is the crux of the story. It’s true that she doesn’t rise to this position by becoming all-powerful. In fact, she does so mostly through the realization that she has been the mistress of the castle for a long time and just didn’t know it. But even this realization means that “back to normal” is not possible. (Having not read the book, you, of course, will just have to take my word on it. Or you could take a chance and buy it, but that’s your call.)
Thinking about it now, I think all my books have this quality. The characters do not transform in any earth-shattering fashion. They remain consistent throughout their stories. But they do change. They do grow. They just do it in small (yet important) ways that I find more realistic and satisfying.
I hate to use the word subtle because, damn it, it just sounds pretentious. But, what the hell? I’m a semi-successful novelologist. I have the books on the shelves to prove it. Just this once, I’ll be pretentious.
As for MONSTER, I agree with your assessment. Monster, our hero, starts out as a down-on-his-luck pessimist, and by the end of the novel, he really hasn’t grown one damn bit. That was intentional though. Sometimes, we just don’t learn. If you don’t find that satisfying from a story perspective, who could blame you? I knew when I wrote it that many wouldn’t.
But what about our other protagonist, Judy, who is finally free to pursue her own happiness for the first time? While she might be the same person, more or less, her circumstances have changed in important ways. Her life is certainly not “back to normal” by the end of the novel.
And let’s not forget the universe of Monster itself, which has already begun to change after the climax. Trying to avoid spoilers here (again), but if I wrote another book set in this universe, it would have to be quite a bit different because the very rules of magic and reality that govern Monster’s world have been altered. I could even argue that the universe itself is the central character of the story and that its transformation by the end could constitute real character growth.
I’m not suggesting that your interpretations are wrong. All art is filtered through the audience, and if the audience doesn’t like it, then the art has failed. There’s no debate on that. I wish I could tell you that you would like my other books better, but I’m not sure you would. Some of the major characters in DIVINE MISFORTUNE change and grow (though again, nothing very extreme). Others don’t. I don’t feel like the book goes “back to normal”, but I didn’t feel that way about the other books either, so what do I know? I’m just the writer, and in the cosmic scheme of things, my opinion matters far less than the audience’s.
Still, I want to thank you again for taking the time to comment. If you ever feel like giving any of my other books a try (hey, that’s what libraries and used book stores are for) then I hope you’ll find them worth your time. If not, well, thanks for giving me a shot.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,