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Sunday, August 09, 2020

Dear Reader: How to Express Negative Feedback

 

I recently received an email from a reader who did not like an aspect of my novel "Rakes and Roses." I've asked her permission to share the dialogue we had for two reasons. 

1) Because of how well-spoken she was in the email she sent, I didn't feel defensive so much as truly wanted her to know where I was coming from. I think it's something we can all learn from in that the way we express complaints can have a dramatic impact on the type of response we get.  

2) I don't think she's the only one who felt this way about this particular scene/plot aspect. For those who also wondered at the out of character reaction, I wanted to have the explanation available. 

WARNING: Includes spoilers.

REQUEST: If you comment, please do not be negative toward the reader or her opinions. 

_____________________

Dear Josi,

I recently finished Rakes and Roses. I do believe you handled the subject matter extraordinarily well. As with all of your novels, I was deeply interested and moved by the characters. But, the heroine in this book did not stay true to herself. She was chaste and deliberate in her attempts to assist others in repenting and finding virtue in themselves. Then in her moment of temptation, which all of us have, she grovels in some sort of self-pity that astounded me. She is saved by a man who was deliberately saving her and himself from ruin and he tells her so, and she suffers inside from rejection?

 

She had to know he at least felt a passion. It is unrealistic to think otherwise. But, when morning came, she should have been thrilled to have mercifully escaped and be thrilled that for whatever reason Harry hadn’t fallen as well.

 

I am a grandmother and I am passionate about what I read. Our granddaughters and I share our feelings and our books. I am very concerned about what some of our teenagers are reading in regard to sexual enticements and sultry moments written in some books listed as clean and proper. Up to this point, you have set the right tone. The Gospel shines through with the choices between good and evil. I felt in Sabrina's case it was a bit vague during certain instances at the end.

 

I love your work and your dedication to wholesome and real works. But, sometimes, we don't see what others see.

Yours Sincerely,
####
___________________________________

 

Dear ####,

 

Thank you for your feedback regarding Rakes & Roses. I see what you saw in those scenes and understand why you would be uncomfortable with it. My goal in that particular portion of the story was to show that chemistry and desire are real parts of our experience--I am glad you saw that too--but to also show that it can be more complex than simply attraction and even morality.

 

I wanted Harry to show his strength in that scene, something he has never had to exercise before, in order to show his growth and the way that his prior actions have not allowed him to develop the emotional connection that he feels with Sabrina and knows would be ruined if he acted on the physical draw he was feeling. I felt it was very important to show this in the story, which necessitated Sabrina acting out of character--not only did he stop her advances, but he wasn't the one to advance. He had found contentment in the relationship they were developing and could see the disaster of taking liberties should he act on them. 

 

For Sabrina's part, she has never been loved and she has built a life that protects her from being rejected in any way--physically or otherwise. Like Harry, she has formed an emotional connection but she's also in the power position in this relationship. One aspect of this story is the reversal of gender roles. In the Regency era, the men had all the power--politically, socially, financially, and physically. In this story, it's different. Sabrina saved him, helped him find healing, and is helping him see life in a different way. There's an intoxication that comes with power, and there's a very real attraction between them. In this scene, I wanted to show Harry's vulnerability and I wanted to show how powerful she feels. It's often shown this way in the reverse in lots of novels--clean or otherwise--where the man has an advantage over the woman because of the power he holds in the relationship. We expect men to push the boundaries, and we expect women to stop them. In this story, Sabrina pushes her advantage and Harry stops her. She "is" grateful that he stopped them, but she is also incredibly lonely in her life and smarts from the rejection she feels because it pulls forward all the other rejections she's felt in her life. 

 

Every reader takes different things from the stories they read. I've had readers write to me with something they saw in my story that I never intended but was a powerful aspect for them. In this, I can see that Sabrina's reaction didn't work for you, didn't feel authentic, or perhaps made her seem weak when she is so determined to strong. My intention was to show the humanness and help her see her own loneliness so that when she and Harry come back together she's admitted to herself that she's not happy in her life. It was a different sort of story than I have told before; I chose to write two characters with deep wounds that they help each other to heal. 

 

I am not trying to talk you out of your feelings, I simply wanted to explain my reasoning for this scene and the reaction of both parties in hopes to clarify that I was not ignorant of Sabrina's character, rather I was trying to show a deeper level than she herself was comfortable acknowledging. 

 

Thank you again for your thoughts, you are very articulate and well-spoken. I enjoyed having the chance to think about this topic and review my motivations. 

 

Have a good day, 

 

Josi

_______________________________

 

Dear Josi

 

Thank you so much for such an immediate response.

It helped to know how you came to write the novel's

ending as you did. I appreciate the time you took

for me. I feel better for having communicated my

thoughts and hearing yours. 

 

Thank you again.