I usually don’t buy into the whole “this series didn’t finish the way I wanted it to”. Mainly because a) I understand the crushing pressure of meeting reader expectations, of writing for an audience, of trying to cap a story off in a satisfactory way while being true to yourself, and b) I don’t usually care all that much. And I doubly don’t care when it’s not even a series I’ve really read.
However, I couldn’t help taking note of the whole furore around the Sookie Stackhouse series. I just couldn’t. Because even I, with my one-book-read-one-TV-series-watched-limited-experience, could see how problematic that ending was. And not in a “betraying some pairing I don’t give a crap about” way. In a kind of…betraying the initial themes of your series sort of way.
I always thought the books were about vampire acceptance and so on – that Sookie stood out because she understood. And I liked that she wanted more than her humdrum life. So to end it on that note…to have her return to that life, and the guy who always had a crush on her…well, it seems like the biggest retrogressive step since Dorothy decided fook Oz, I want depression era Kansas!
Very few people want grinding poverty and hardship over a magical world. Don’t try to tell me they do. And I can’t help thinking that the same message is in the end of Harris’ books: women don’t want more. They want less, less, less!
Though I guess I could forgive that possible message, if I didn’t suspect the reason for it was based on the need to subvert reader expectations. I mean, I can imagine what the weight of that audience must have been like – I’ve experienced maybe one millionth of it and one millionth of it is heavy enough. And I get that the pressure and the urge to surprise and do something different and not give in when you have a “vision” must be strong.
But here’s the thing: what’s so bad about giving readers what they want? I don’t mean compromising yourself or your work. I don’t mean selling out, or just giving in to what everyone is saying. I just mean…what’s so bad about writing with your audience in mind?
I love writing with my audience in my mind. And although it’s sometimes tough and frustrating and I feel buried beneath the expectation that I’m probably just imagining, I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Why would I? The thrill of having readers and wanting to give them something they like far outweighs that little voice in my head that wishes I could go back and write clean and fresh and with no worries about it.
Because the truth is…even back then when I had no readers, and didn’t worry about what I was writing…I still worried about what I was writing. I was still always aware of my genre, of its boundaries, of what I could do with those boundaries. How far could I push them? How could I operate within them and still be myself? All my works have been an experiment in that very thing: being different within the conventions.
I love nothing better than taking the familiar – taking something that readers will love – and putting my own spin on it. In fact, that’s what I prefer to do, and I think it’s because I actually love most of the things that many readers want. I am a reader myself. I love popular tropes. I love angsty vampires and sexy billionaires and bad boys with a heart of gold.
I just like to tell stories about them in my own way. For me, it’s all in the telling. Not the trope. No matter what reader expectations are…no matter how much that pressure gets to you…no matter how many people accuse you of jumping on some bandwagon that existed well before the band first made a billion dollars…it’s the telling that really counts. And I hope I always feel that way. I’m not so proud I can pretend readers don’t matter.
But I can still be me when I write for them.