Sunday, February 14, 2016

Disliking Vs. Hating Stephenie Meyer's Work: Power of the Written Word

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Happy Valentine's Day! Monday will be the Gravity Falls series finale. I'll probably post my thoughts on the latter at another time. For now, though, in light of one of the most romantic and commercial holidays, I will talk about one pop culture phenomenon with books: Twilight. Four years ago, author Shannon Hale wrote a blog post about Twilight, namely about how people have made it acceptable to mock the work and to belittle it, despite Twilight being a success. This paragraph from Shannon's blog has stayed with me, all through the years:

"I recently heard a writer speaking at a conference (a writer I respect, like, and who has had objectively admirable success). When asked by the audience to name a favorite book, he answered, "I'll tell you one I wish had never been written: Twilight." It was an unnecessary and petty comment, I thought, but what really troubled me was the audience's reaction: they applauded and cheered. I've encountered similar scenes dozens of times. By all means, don't like Twilight. Don't read it. Or read it and have intelligent conversations about why you don't like it. But I question why it's become okay to hate, mock, demean, ridicule this writer woman and her series that's loved by so many women."

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Several thoughts always come to mind when I think of this quote. The first is that I admire Shannon's work so much, as well as her kindness to everyone. She's given me hugs at book signings and before she received too many emails would respond to mine frequently. The second is that I wonder how often I've mocked a work that someone worked hard on, or critiqued it on this blog while expressing my opinion. The third is that I wonder if I would defend my writing friends if they ended up in a similar scenario, though probably they never would because their writing is fantastic.

The first Twilight book deceived me, but not for the reasons that one may think. I knew going into it that Edward was a vampire, and Bella was going to fall in love with him, and develop an obsession. That became clear on the back cover, and from the newspaper article that talked about how book two started. To be honest, I've read only Twilight, not the rest of the trilogy, precisely because the first book changed the plot in the last hundred pages and shifted gears, all to create drama. I felt tricked. I do not like books that deceive me in such a way. Who cared about Edward or Jacob when the writer pulled the rug under our feet unfairly?

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Despite this dislike, and my having done a speech about "What to Do When Your Friends Like Twilight,"I try to make it clear that my opinions on books are not the end-all, be-all, unless I'm in a verbal or digital argument in real time. Two of my writer friends are huge Twilight fans, and I don't wish to spoil their enjoyment. In addition, as a writer whose short stories are still in the process of constant submission, rejection and revision, I know what it's like to have hurt feelings when someone I care about doesn't like a particular tale or reacts viscerally to it.

Words have power. They can be the words exchanged over a family dinner, the email sent with a rejection letter of a short story, or the kind message that you send on Tumblr to someone when they're feeling down. More often the crueler words stay with you, for months or years at a time, and they crop up in your memories like burrs catching on shirts. Cyberbullying has become a serious issue online, with anonymous harassment and tackling bullies' Facebook posts. Just this past week what ought to have been a civil disagreement in the How to Train Your Dragon fandom led to fans, including myself, taking sides and to a lot of hurt feelings. We don't want to censor our words, but we also want to be kind about people's life work and opinions.

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Is there a way to critique and gently mock a problematic story with love, so as not to hurt the author or readers' feelings? Probably, but some argue whether or not we even need to make the effort to soften the blows, especially when a story can be genuinely problematic. Words in this day and age stay around for a lot longer thanks to computers and social media, so we need to decide what words we want to put into the world. More importantly, we have to figure out our levels o kindness.

This Valentine's, pass on kindness to someone in need of it. Praise an author posting their work ona  website for critique if they deserve it. And for Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer, maybe refrain from mocking Twilight for the day. All in all, think about what impact you want your words to have.

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