Trash the book, not the author!

My intention today was to blog about Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help and the film adaptation, which debuted last week. As I wrote that post, I realized I needed more time to organize my many thoughts about this book and movie and what they bring up for me, so look for that post on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I will write about my friend Phoenix Sullivan. She was a guest blogger here in March and has a popular blog called Dare to Dream. Until recently, she reviewed queries and synopses on her blog, made suggestions and helped hundreds of newbie writers with these tricky projects. Earlier this year, she invited authors to submit for an anthology, selected the pieces to include, edited them and published Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever online. She has written two novels and runs a farm (complete with chickens and horses and other animals) all by herself. Many of her followers, including myself, consider her Wonder Woman.

One of her books, Spoils of War, made it through the gruesome process of agents and editors and got all the way to the editorial table at two publishing houses—the last step before being offered a traditional publishing contract. Though both publishers had favorable comments, they ultimately decided to pass on her books. However, Spoils of War got a glowing endorsement by New York Times best selling author Jennifer Blake and Phoenix to publish it online a few months ago.

Her sales had been steady, then . . . over the weekend, Spoils of War went viral on Twitter and various blogs. It all started with a scathing review by January on a popular website called Dear Author.

In her review, January ripped the book apart on everything from historical accuracy to editorial errors like spelling and commas (she later retracted her comments on spelling when she realized the words she sited were accurately spelled; she had made the assumption the author meant to use other words–oh, my!).  Commas, of course, are pretty subjective and, as a former editor, I’m pretty sure Phoenix put commas where needed in her work.

January’s primary attack was aimed at the rape and violence in the book. The heroine was raped by three men (to my recollection) including the hero. More disturbing was the repeated rape of an eleven-year-old enslaved by a much older man who’d essentially made her his plaything.

Are these rapes upsetting? Absolutely. Were they in context for the time frame of the novel? Yes. I think Cliff said it best in a five-star review on Amazon. In part, his review is:

Spoil of War . . . deals with difficult subjects in a sympathetic way without trying to impose 21st century morals on 5th century characters.

Cliff’s review captures what’s wrong with January’s review. She took the actions in the book out of context. Phoenix’s characters and the situations they were in fit the era. Was it historically accurate? I don’t know and I don’t care. It entertained me, and this is not a genre I’d normally read.

The book clearly states the setting is during a disturbing time in history. Here’s part of the product description.

Please note: This novel takes place in a harsh era when spoils were often treated as commodities. While the violence toward women and children is period-appropriate and for mature adults only, it is never gratuitous. The story focuses on adaptation, survival and, ultimately, love in the Dark Ages before Arthur was made king.

January is certainly entitled to her opinion and to blog about it. The 3000+ word attack elicited over 200 comments. (For comparison, my post today is less than 800 words and I’d love to have even 25 comments on a post.) Most of the comments were in agreement with the blogger but few had read the book. The post, as well as many of the comments, was an attack on the author in addition to her work. They questioned her integrity; they all but questioned her parentage. I know Phoenix and I know she is ethical and kind and her personal standards are exceptionally high. The blogger and her followers can trash the book all day long—we all have different tastes in what we read—but don’t personally attack the author. Writers are people too and what we write does not necessarily reflect our beliefs. That’s why it’s called fiction.

To get some balance, the blog Rise of the Slush reviewed the book prior to January’s review if you want to check it out.

Before I get completely off my soapbox, (I am getting a little dizzy), I’ll leave you with this Oscar Wilde quote: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Hang in there Phoenix while you’re being talked about and remember, those of us who know you have your back. (Completely off soapbox now!)

I hope you’ll be back Wednesday for my post about The Help.


5 thoughts on “Trash the book, not the author!

  1. Wow! Authors should not be subject to review. Only the words they write.

    As so often happens, the mob mentality plays a huge role in how subsequent posters react. Too often they are ignorant of all but the basics and simply latch onto one idea posted by another and run with it. More’s the pity for the shallowness of their experiences.

    Well, January did Phoenix a favor. Spoils of War is now a part of my kindle library and is in queue to be my first airplane read on the way to Canada in a few days.

    I think I shall go over and thank Ms. January for the lovely recommendation.


  2. Good post, Kay. On one hand, Richard Bach said, “The way to know a writer is not meet him, but to read what he writes.” that seemed true to me when I read it, and it still rings true to me–at least in part. I don’t think he was talking about the trappings of the story, though, but the truth of it. I’ll have to get Phoenix’s book to be sure (and I will, after your post and the reviews you linked to), but it seems that the disturbing content is not gratuitous but in service of a greater truth. That reveals something about Phoenix.

    Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter reveals something about Lindsay, but it’s not what you might think if you focused only on Dexter’s psychopathy. Beneath the “dexter” veneer is an insight into what it means to be human that tells us a lot about how Lindsay views the world. The trick is to look past the trappings and see what it is the author is really trying to say. Like it or not, our writing does reveal something about us, but I completely agree with you that it’s the work that should be reviewed, not the author.

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