The Green-Eyed Author (or, Is It Okay To Say I Hated Your Book?)

Let’s talk about jealousy for a minute.

I’m not talking about jealousy over a man or woman.  Not the kind of jealousy that makes people do crazy and stupid things when they think their special someone might have another special someone on the side.

I’m talking about professional jealousy. Namely, Fifty Shades of Grey.  Oh, my God, I hate that book.  I hate it with the kind of stomach-churning distaste that makes my lip curl into a sneer every time it is mentioned. I’ll admit that I even find myself wanting the movie to flop.  Big time.  We’re talking Heaven’s Gate flop.  Waterworld flop. When Justin Met Kelly flop.

But to be fair, I have to look inside myself to understand why the Fifty Shades phenomenon provokes such a strong reaction in me, especially after a young co-worker made a rather pointed comment to me yesterday.

“You’re just jealous that those books are so successful and yours aren’t,” she said.

Ouch.

Let me just say right here that I truly value this young lady’s opinion.  She was one of the few people in my circle who was honest enough to point out some glaring errors in my first book, and I find her honesty to be worth more than gold.  To put it into non-writing terms, she’s the kind of person every woman wants to take on shopping trips because she’ll give an honest answer to that age old question: “Does this make my butt look big?”

So yes, my butt looks big and I am jealous of E.L. James. Of course I want my books to be read by millions of fans.  I want a movie deal. I want my name to be known by millions, my books to be the center of discussion and controversy, my bank accounts to be overflowing . . .

Um . . . where was I going with this? Sorry, got a little distracted by the fantasies of money, fame and adulation.

But I guess I have to look a little deeper and question whether my negative opinion of Fifty Shades would be the same if it wasn’t so successful. I have to ask myself if I might like the books better if they weren’t such a huge success. As a writer, can I ever separate myself from that envy to form an honest, unbiased opinion of another author’s work? Are any of us able to do that?

I believe so. I didn’t like Fifty Shades.  There, I said it. I just don’t think it’s a very good book. If she had only sold a dozen copies, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. That’s not jealousy; that’s the honest opinion of someone who started reading at age four and hasn’t stopped since.

I know I should be cheering for my fellow self-published author, but I just don’t understand what the fuss is all about.  I did not think the book was very good.

So, is my opinion invalid, simply because the book I dislike is doing so well? Is it fair to dismiss my opinion as petty jealousy on my part?

I like to think that I know the difference between a good book and a bad one.  That I can form an honest opinion regardless of my feelings about the author, regardless of my envying the success of others.  I like to think that I can be fair and impartial.

Then again, I also like to think that I look good in jeggings, and we all know that’s not true.

So let’s get to the point here.  When I say that I think another book is bad, am I saying that I think mine is better?  No, not necessarily.  When I wonder how a book that I dislike can possibly do so well, am I whining that its success is unfair or undeserved?  Again, no.  I am not.  Nor am I saying that the authors of these books don’t deserve their fame and fortune.

I’m simply saying that I don’t like certain books.

The fact that I am an author doesn’t take away my right to have an opinion. The fact that I wish I had E.L. James’ success and money doesn’t negate my opinions of her work.

Authors are allowed to have opinions of other books. We can say that we didn’t like Fifty Shades or Angela’s Ashes or even Catcher in The Rye if we really didn’t like those books.  It’s okay to question the popularity of something that we didn’t like.  And yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to feel a tiny bit of jealousy or envy once in a while.  Go ahead; own it.

What’s not okay is letting that jealousy take over.  It’s not all right to use it as an excuse to shred someone else’s work unfairly.  And it’s definitely not okay to continue to disparage another author or his/her work because of that jealousy.  Express your opinion in the fairest way possible, own your envy, and move on.  Go write your next book and make it better than the ones you dislike.

Because I can guarantee that there are people out there who won’t like what you write, and some of those people are going to be your fellow authors.  And guess what?

They have a right to their opinions, too.

Whumpage!

I learned a new word recently.  Ready for it?

Whumpage.

Isn’t that great?  Say it out loud:  Whumpage.   I dare you to try to say it without grinning immediately afterward.

It’s a term used by fanfiction writers to describe stories in which physical or emotional pain is heaped on a favorite character, over and over and over again.  These stories are usually categorized in the Hurt/Comfort genre and have summaries that promise “Lots of whumpage!  Tissue alert!”

And they are hilarious.

It starts with the smallest, youngest, or prettiest male character from any fandom (book, TV show, etc.).  In some cases, one character fits all three criteria, and then the authors have a field day.  This character is built up to be as vulnerable as possible, often bordering on childlike or effeminate.  Some of the more ambitious writers portray him as so vulnerable and childlike that he almost seems to be mentally incompetent.

Then this creative little author will proceed to beat the living crap out of the poor guy.

I need to go off on a quick tangent here about the nature of injuries in fanfiction.  The tiniest bump on the noggin results in a concussion, which quickly degenerates into a skull fracture – with or without a coma.  While the loved ones suffer through all kinds of angst, the pitiful patient almost always develops pneumonia with a fever that soon soars up into the seizure zone.

Any broken bone in fanfiction automatically becomes a compound fracture with full complications.  Everyone, it seems, ends up with broken ribs that puncture and collapse a lung.  Which, of course, always becomes pneumonia.

Injured or sick characters in fanfiction also develop every complication known to man.  There is almost always a setback of some sort just as things start looking up, sometimes dozens of times in the same story.  On occasion the setback is due to incompetent or cruel medical professionals whose poor treatment brings about a relapse or the aforementioned pneumonia; more often it comes in the form of some evildoer bent on the destruction and suffering of the poor fellow.

At some point, breathing stops.  Then the heart stops.  After much angst, gnashing of teeth, and tearing of hair, our pretty little hero miraculously comes back – either through CPR, defibrillator, or the life-saving teardrops of that one special friend/lover/pal.

Many of the best (translation: worst) whumpage stories are teeming with guy-on-guy rape scenes.

I’ve never been able to understand the appeal of this aspect of these stories.  Seriously, if I’m having some heavy-duty fantasies about, say, Johnny Gage, the absolute last thing I want to read is a story in which he is violently gang-raped by some macho bad guy with questionable motivation.

Can anybody explain this to me?

Another fairly creepy trademark of these whumpage stories is the “comfort” part of Hurt/Comfort.  The other male characters suddenly become, for no apparent reason, Mommies.  They comfort the poor whumped-upon fellow by rubbing his back while he vomits, or by spooning broth into his mouth.  They carry their injured friend around like a toddler and exchange soft, gentle words of love while tucking him in and wondering when –or if—help will arrive.  And arrive it does, always at the last possible second, just when all hope seems lost.

Honestly, I am a Mommy, and I’m not even that nice to my own kids when they are sick.  I’m the kind of Mommy who says, “If you’re gonna hurl, hurl that way” before handing them the Barf Bucket.

One popular variation of the Hurt/Comfort story is the hero who bravely hides his own injuries while taking care of his friends.  With superhuman strength and determination, he might drag an unconscious victim out of a burning building despite his own broken pelvis or collapsed lung; he will grit his teeth against the pain of a broken leg or spine while marching up and down a hill to build a shelter for his buddy after an airplane crash.  He’ll ignore the throbbing pain of a concussion long enough to get his BFF to safety before passing out.

This then gives all kinds of opportunity for more angst, as the other characters berate themselves for not noticing his injuries.

The funniest part of a whumpage story is the recovery of our poor, frail little whipping boy.  After multiple compound fractures, collapsed lungs and dozens of concussions, these fellas always recover fully and bounce right back into their lives with no lingering pain or memory issues.  Nobody ever has to file a disability claim.

I want to include links to a few examples of extreme Hurt/Comfort/Whumpage on Fanfiction.net, but I also want to make sure to give a few warnings first.  Some of these stories are very explicit and have already been reported for exceeding FFNet’s standards, so please don’t read if you are easily offended.

These fanfic writers have put a lot of effort into their work, and some of them are really quite talented.  They aren’t bad writers; they are simply following an established (and unfortunate) trend on the site.  Besides, the more a writer beats up on a character, the more reviews he or she will get.  It’s addictive.  All of those accolades make it really tempting to kick the guy while he’s down. . . for just one more chapter.

In short, please be nice to the writers of the stories I am listing here.

“Missing in Motion” actually started out as a decent story with some promise.  The boys of Big Time Rush are involved in a tour bus accident and then kidnapped by a group of really well-written criminals.  So far, so good.  Then we get the first major surgery on the Pitiful Character, followed by a second car accident, and a random stoner rapes one of the boys while a misguided Army medic rapes another; later, two of the boys are forced to sexually assault each other at gunpoint and the crazed medic goes after his patient again. Later still, two of the boys are sold into sexual slavery in Canada, where one of them is molested by his former hockey coach.  Meanwhile, one boy nearly dies from a knife wound while the other has a complete mental breakdown and psychotic break after having a bomb strapped to his chest.

And it keeps going.  On and on and on, with no end in sight.  The author is trying to write a heartbreaking tale of pain and suffering, but it is so over the top that it actually seems like a parody of Hurt/Comfort/Whumpage stories.

“Death Warmed Over” is one that opens with the life-threatening injury of the prettiest man on the show White Collar.  The poor boy suffers chapter after chapter of near-recovery followed by a string of horrific relapses—also with no end in sight.

Then there’s “Faithfully Condemned”, a Criminal Minds story in which Reid is horribly tortured for no reason other than to make him seem increasingly frail and pathetic.  I’ll admit I stopped reading this one early on because it was just too . . . icky. The writer really put a lot of thought and planning into this one.  Maybe a bit too much, if you get my meaning.

So I’m a bit cruel to laugh at stories of pain and suffering on Fanfiction.Net, but I also understand the fun of writing them.  As a matter of fact, I used to have a bunch of Hurt/Comfort stories on my account over there that I have since deleted because they were so awful.

No matter how bad the whumpage stories are, can we all agree that they are still better than “Fifty Shades of Grey”?