e_moon60 (e_moon60) wrote,


Wandering back through emails to prune the list, I ran across something my agent had sent me (not being more specific than that about when or where he found it)  in which someone discussed my work but complained of "too much touchy-feely stuff" (approximate quote.)

Which reminded me of the panel I moderated in which we got into a discussion of the many flavors of "cooties"--hairtrigger turn-offs for defined groups of readers.   There are girl cooties and boy cooties, war cooties and peace cooties, sex cooties (many subspecies of those),  animal cooties (stories with certain species of animals, or animals in certain roles.)  

Common examples: "I won't read a book that has [cootie example] in it."    "He/she is a male/female/gay/straight/liberal/conservative writer and their books are always full of [cootie example]."   "I'll never read another book by X: right there in the first chapter was [cootie.]"    Readers like this have an almost allergic reaction to certain words, phrases, and situations--they don't want to read along and find out why that was justified, they just recoil in horror.   They don't call them "cooties" most of the time, but the tone of the complaint makes it clear that you're seeing cootie-phobia, not a rational, intellectual discussion of the work.

Trying to negotiate the cootie minefield can leave a writer frustrated, exasperated, and exhausted.  And it's useless.   There's no way to write a book that doesn't hit someone's cootie-detector.  And--to make it completely unfair--some readers will turn up their nose at cooties they detect in your books and accept with gratitude the very same cooties from another  writer.    That's really maddening when the reader tells you that the other writer is cootie-free.  And you can get hit by opposing groups of cooty-averse readers for having opposite kinds of cooties.  

What is the writer to do?   

Write the story and wear Kevlar eye-shields eyes when you look at reviews and emails that start "I thought you were supposed to write [cootie-free subgenre of choice]  but I see you're just like all the other [cootie-producing writers] and you just had to have [cootie-filled scene]..."  

We have a wonderful privilege, as writers: we can write the story we want to read--we can make up the characters we want to make up, and run them through experiences we want them to have.

What we can't do is control how readers react.   Some will love the stories; some won't.  Some that won't just won't buy any more of our books, but some feel compelled to stomp on us for the icky, awful, eeeeuwww! cooties they are sure infest our stories.   That's part of the reality of being a writer--someone, somewhere, is going to complain about the cooties. 

And we can always have cootie-phobias of our own, and enjoy them to the hilt...tossing offending books at the opposite wall for literary as other reasons.   ("It has Mary Sue cooties all over it!!!") 

Tags: the writing life
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