Warning: big journal.
This has been in the back of my head for awhile now, and even though it's the result of individual people's comments and messages, I can't help but feel the only appropriate response is a generalized journal - especially because I do occasionally get random comments from new readers that do exactly what I'm about to talk about.
Over the last year or so especially, I've been receiving some very well thought out opinions and comments from people. Some of those comments are argumentative or critical in nature, however, and that's fine. However, a lot of people seem to be making the assumption that my characters always speak for me, or that one or two examples or incidents in a story of mine is indicative of my real-life opinion of an entire demographic of people.
This is admittedly a pet-peeve of mine. Yes, my stories are out there to put forth some of my political and social views. They sneak in whether an author wants them to or not, but some people leap to truly extraordinary conclusions. Sometimes, if I'm being honest, it can be a little hurtful... or a little bloody annoying.
Here, I will be responding to comments that individual people made. Those people might read this journal. So let me just say in advance that this is NOT me trying to be disrespectful; I may not have responded to you personally, but I'm not responding via a public journal to be rude - just because this is a very common thing I get and I think it's better responded to and discussed in an open fashion. All apologies in advance if it comes across like I'm ducking you; I'm totally not, if anything, I'm inviting you to open discussion. I won't name you, because that's just rude. I just want to make a point here, to all of my readers.
The first time someone really bothered me with this was a throwaway comment from a guy whom I suspect only read the latter third of Tai's Story. This is a damn good example of what I'm talking about, though, so it'll serve as a starting point.
He made a relatively positive comment, then added a weaselly "I don't want to get into a political discussion but there are good reasons children aren't allowed to have guns." This being in relation to what Robert says to the boys when they're discussing a shooting competition. And yes, that's being a total weasel. He DID start a political discussion, snapped off his retort then tried to duck out.
I really don't understand how people - it might be because this is the internet and everyone is opinionated here - can read that section and presume that Robert is not only speaking for me, but that they should ignore the context of the scene, and then catapult themselves beyond a "leap of logic" and think that I'm saying every child should be given a firearm for their sixth birthday, with no restrictions, registration or rules. It was a father placating and siding with two boys about how they should be able to go to a tightly controlled environment to compete in a low-caliber shooting competition, and affirming that he doesn't think they're irresponsible idiot-children who'd need extreme supervision.
There are shooting competitions for preteens, and it's not unheard of for some kids to get their first deer rifle on their eighth or ninth birthday. It's very possible to educate a child in firearm safety (even if that "safety" is nothing more than: "Get away and tell an adult."), dispel the mystique and have responsible young firearm users - kids have even been known to use their firearm in legitimate self-defense, against animals or criminals, but more importantly, they're known for not shooting anybody and being totally fine, especially at supervised competitions. THAT is FAR more common than the accidents, but what do you hear on the news?
Yet there are many people who leave firearms near their kids, do not educate them, treat it like a forbidden fruit, aaand before you know it, you've got a lethal accident on your hands. And make no mistake, I think this is unforgivable. I will never endorse that.
Firearms and children in the same sentence will send people who are not acquainted with firearms straight up the wall, and that's understandable. They've got their mental pictures of children as innocent butterflies and firearms as volatile murderbeasts just waiting to blow a person away. Say the two together and all they can think of is Columbine or Sandy Hook. It's a soft-spot, and I find that all of the times I get a comment like this so far, the person seems defensive or, perhaps, aggressive. As if I, personally, am stepping on something they love or believe, even if they've actually misunderstood my intentions entirely.
Which is understandable if, say, they think I'm endorsing irresponsible twits who give their uneducated kids guns and no supervision - which still seems to work okay for most redneck families, badumtish. But that's not even close to what Robert was saying, which is not necessarily even what I believe. It is, but that's not the point. It was a highly specific situation; taking it out of context and warping it into something batshit insane like that is hardly fair.
Note that this also really gets me down: don't assume, when someone makes a statement of their opinion, that you secretly hold some great wisdom (that you read once somewhere) that will defeat everything they've ever believed in and change their opinion immediately, because they're just waiting for you to come along and enlighten them. They've probably heard it all before, and unless you've been actively involved in political debate you're likely the one who doesn't know HIS reasons. Don't want to start a political discussion, my ass. Does this guy really think that if he just tells me those "reasons" I'll throw my hands up in defeat and admit that I never really thought about it, it's not like I've looked into the issue, seen the arguments on both sides, and formed my own opinions or anything.
But this isn't about firearms or anything of the like. I'm trying to make a point here. There are two other comments I received in private that set my hackles up, because they both made huge assumptions about me as a person and as an author.
The first one was a certain "otter" who has read most of my stories. He's an awesome guy and all, but one day, out of the blue he accused me of being "anti blue collar." Yikes! Class warfare!
His list of evidence was:
Tai's poor mother was a bad parent whereas Mike's well-off father was fantastic - but that's because Eraline was extremely depressed. Not much more to say there. Not to give out spoilers, but she was hardly truly poor anyway.
He assumed that Nick's more abusive foster parents were blue collar, and of course many of the kids he interacted with were low-income/poor/homeless, but Gary is a white-collar IT worker - actually, Nick's foster parents were mostly middle-class, and Nick's friends are actually stand up guys. Gary is the way he is because he's based on a real person I know (no, not me) and because it contrasts the hard-bitten, coarse kid with a comparatively pampered, office-working, big suburban house owning guy who likes his games, movies, queen bed and boutique beers. Despite having his own troubles and fighting hard for what he has now, Gary also has a habit of screwing up royally, because he's scared to risk his lifestyle. Pussy white collared jackass... I mean, I love everyone equally.
Really, we can cut this short. The fact is, I am from a blue-collar family, we work hard for what little we've got, but that still seems like a lot - because everyone nowadays has a lot of crap now. I'm also from a country where "blue-collar" workers, of all stripes, can earn humongous amounts of money, at least on par with white-collar professionals, so it's a meaningless distinction to me - blue-collar or white-collar ultimately still usually means "upper-middle class" here. A miner can make as much as a lawyer, and a cleaner still makes as shitty a wage as a receptionist. If anything, though, I will admit that I like to write about the gentler suburban life, give my characters nice big homes and non-volatile lives and friends.
Why? Because I never really got that. And speaking as a low-income earner in a crappy neighborhood? You have to deal with some TOTAL ASSHOLES in these areas/social strata; when I was younger, we knew someone so we managed to get a relatively mediocre house but it was in an affluent area, just for a short time. So I can directly compare it. It's not "the grass is always greener." It's a fact: there was no random violence, no drugged up tweens vandalizing parked cars, or stealing your bike, or assaulting other children, or raiding the liquor store. I went from that when I was very young, never thinking that kids even did that, to a place where all that shit is common. So it's vicarious fantasy, shush.
Seriously though, no, I'm not anti-blue collar. How could I be? And not all of my protagonist characters or their families are unusually well-off or professionals. This is clearly something the guy was sensitive about, and he's jumped to the conclusion that I'm writing anti-laborer fiction.
He also pointed out that Czejak from Astray had made a few mistakes, and "should have known" that Gary and Nick might get intimate. Well, frankly, no duh. Czejak is a workaholic social worker with a private therapy practice and a borderline martyr complex. No kidding he makes mistakes. It's also made very clear that, off the record, he knew very well that the two might do something together; but he failed to anticipate Gary's freak out.
The other person who inspired me to write this is also likely to read this. He had an issue with the portrayal of "Adam" in Astray - a jaguar character who used to provide drugs to Nick and his friend. Adam, as readers probably know, is a violent asshole.
Long story short, the complaint was that I was being too hard on drug dealers (addendum: with the implication I hadn't actually met any). Don't look confused - he's right; or would be, if I was implying that Adam represents the typical small-time drug dealer.
Adam is based off of a dipshit I met in high school, who was about 22 years old, and used to deal drugs to high school children. He was a violent bogan cunt of a human being, and he often did assault people who didn't pay him back within a few days or who looked at him funny, and I kept well the fuck away from him. Yes, he'd probably stuck a finger into his own cookie dough a few too many times. He was a sociopath, and I'm not entirely sure anyone genuinely liked him.
In my experience, this was very unusual. Still, most of the dealers I knew, be they adults or teenagers just reselling a product, were pretty decent. Some of the teenagers weren't, but the adults are usually alright. Hell, there's probably a whole bunch of people who're technically drug dealers here on InkBunny.
Again, this is Australia, and it's not going to be exactly the same in the USA. If money was paid, and goods switched hands, and nobody was a cunt, it was all fine. It's not always some scene out of Breaking Bad or an 80s cop movie. There are millions of people out there who pop E before going to a rave, or acid blots, whatever. Never did that crap myself. I've seen dealers warn their clients to be careful, not overdose, keep away from sources of heat, pass on useful information, whatever. There are forums on the internet where people discuss drug use and pass on friendly hints and tips, etc, in intelligent conversation. It's not the deep, dark underground world of evil Hollywood wants to portray (while hypocritically getting whammed on coke and fucking over their wage workers). Usually, the violence and danger comes from the cops, directly or indirectly.
No I won't ever publicly endorse taking illegal drugs. It'd just be stupid of me to do that here, even though I'm sure I won't change anyone's behavior. I don't touch anything like that now, I don't see much reason to change. But I wasn't trying to imply that Adam represents anything more than a shithead man-child with a fucking ego, trying to act like hot shit.
Adam may not be the guy you'll deal with if you feel like picking up some weed one Saturday night, and he wasn't ever meant to be; but in my experience, you can run into dipshits like him in middle school. In my experience, that time of your life is a different world. He's a drug-addled shithead delinquent off his meds, late to his own growing-up party. Not meant to represent every person to ever sell a few bags of pot, but I did run into people like this all the damn time when I was a kid, in that sort of social group.
He is one character. What he does is what he does. Why assume that I was trying to make a broader statement than "Adam's a dick?" You might as well assume that I hate single mothers, because of how I portrayed Eraline, but not many mothers are grievously depressed secret agents (though I'm sure there are quite a few). Seriously though, don't do this. It drives writers crazy! A bad female character? We're misogynists. Stupid Irishman character? We hate the Irish. Flamboyant gay character? We're homophobic. Show one drunk guy that someone presumes to be blue-collar? We hate poor people.
The reason that comment irked me was simple. The implication was that I was talking out of my rich suburban sheltered ass and didn't know what I was on about. Hey, there are times where I rely on imagination and don't have much real life experience. I'm not Tom Clancy, but I still write shit about the CIA - yet to have any SAD operatives email me about the dozens of mistakes I know I made anyway but there you go. I also ain't a parent, but parenthood is a major theme in most of my stories. When I started writing TS, I had never been to New York. I have no problem being called out when I'm wrong about something I really am ignorant about. There's a lot of that. I do admit to using artistic license at times too, I've never denied that.
But give me some freakin' credit, c'mon. Sometimes I know what I'm talking about.