Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the Eyes of the Beholder

NOTE: This blog post is also at Edin Road Radio where Hope presents tonight at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. Tune in and listen!
Lowcountry Bribe, the first in The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, portrays a smart yet low-key protagonist who’s satisfied being a government bureaucrat, making loans and grants to the rural residents of South Carolina. When one of her clients, a good-old-boy bubba hog farmer, offers her a bribe, her world explodes with adversity. Her husband, her office, her children, everything and everybody seem against her or threatened until she has no choice but to become a different person and fight back.

When you compose words and scenes, you don’t foresee how readers will accept them. Writing a regional novel, I had my doubts whether folks in the Pacific Northwest, New England, or the Midwestern Corn Belt would find it interesting. The dialect, slang, and witticisms held deep South connotations, and humor is difficult to spin on a universal scale. What I saw as beautiful scenery along the marshes of my home state might seem icky to someone from the city. And unless someone grew up on a farm, would hogs add anything to a plot? My concern was underlined by New York agents who voiced skepticism about the culture and didn’t “get it.”

I drove myself crazy, wondering how to rewrite a tale that everyone would appreciate. Some colloquial verbiage was cut when my international online critique group didn’t understand, like “happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.” I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again, striving for a balance between a colorful Southern lingo and a language everybody understood.

However, after 72 queries, a California agent who raised horses grasped the visual of the writing and the uniqueness of the story. Thanks to her, a Memphis publisher, Bell Bridge Books, read the manuscript and loved the sass and setting, understanding all my Southernisms.

A writer cannot write for all readers. The best of the bestsellers are not beloved by all, regardless of their talent. And those that try to compose for all sorts of interests will fail. So I stuck to what I knew, the environment I grew up with, using the background I loved so well, telling myself I might have to settle for regional acceptance.

To my amazement, the reviews on Amazon show that readers interpreted the story in many different ways.

Some saw it as a mystery interlaced with humor and wit. “…a fiery and fiesty Southern Belle with a wickedly dry sense of humor and an endless supply of priceless (and quite quotable) one-liners.” While others saw the protagonist as, “a tough mother, bitchy boss and remorseful, reluctant wife.”

One labeled it as a suspense thriller. “Lowcountry Bribe is as good a suspense thriller with a strong female protagonist as I have read, and that includes the likes of Patricia Cornwell, Janet Evanovich, J.D. Robb, or Jan Burke. Slade can, and does, run with the best of them. This is a spine tingling thriller with a twist that will take your breath away…” While another considered it, “Part southern fiction, part hard-boiled mystery and part romance, and well worth my time.”

I teared up over and over as each of the 67 reviews poured in. These readers “got it,” but each in his or her own way. One even saw it as a testament for abused women, because of what Carolina Slade overcomes in her journey. Each reader saw what they loved in a good story, and thanked me for writing this mystery for them, painting a protagonist they would like.

That’s when it hit me.

When I finally decided to write a story that came from my core, sculpting the characters, dialogue, setting, and plot from my foundation, using the prime of my talents, I not only wrote my best, but I wrote what’s best for every possible person out there.

It doesn’t matter if a town in some state, or a section of the country, or a demographic strata somewhere doesn’t “get it.”

When we splinter our skill in an effort to please all, we dilute it. When we concentrate on using the individuality of our skills to their utmost, pumping our guts into a project, we give it power. And that is the ultimate legacy any writer, any creative spirit, can give the world.

1 comment:

Rose Godfrey said...

You told the truth, and truth resonates with your readers, even as they experienced that truth in subtly different ways.

My husband is my first reader, and I am blown away at how sometimes he will read my stories and his interpretation is altered in some way from how I saw the story in my mind. It isn't necessarily a negative change, it is just that the information is filtered through a different imagination and set of life experiences.