Monday, October 5, 2009

Trust Me, Trust Me ... by Cindy Beck

(An expounded article, with the original version posted at the LDS Writers Blogck in 2006.)

(Photo by Ryan Franklin, Wikimedia Commons)

It’s only fair to warn you—since I usually write fluff and stuff—that this blog is serious. Why am I warning you? Because it’s a matter of trust.

At an online group to which I belong, emails flew back and forth a few years ago about a well-known LDS writer who often changed his morals from one book to the next. Some people stated they refused to read his books because of it.

It got me thinking. Do we owe anything to readers in terms of keeping their trust?

I know that as a reader nothing turns me off faster than an author I can't trust. Not that an author can't change and grow, but a vast, sudden departure without warning, from what I perceive as the norm for that author, is a betrayal.

When Harry Potter first came out, I was enthralled, excited, and eagerly looking forward to each new book. And then, after I’d finished reading almost all of the books in the series, the public announcement was made that Professor Dumbledore, one of the important characters in the Harry Potter series, was supposedly gay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a gay basher. On the other hand, homosexuality is not a lifestyle I would engage in or that I want my children taught as an alternate lifestyle in elementary school, either. But, I do believe in the right for all adults to utilize their free agency and pick the lifestyles of their choosing.

There was no hint by J. K. Rowling that Dumbledore’s sexual preference was an alternate lifestyle. And in books that were geared toward children, there should have been some warning, so parents could decide if they wanted their children reading the books.

It’s my personal opinion that Rowling sold out to Hollywood; that when the books were written, Dumbledore’s character was not gay. I believe that over time, though, with pressure from the movie industry—a mogul which consistently caters to the gay and lesbian community—Rowling agreed to label the professor as such.

I have no proof of that except for my own intuition. I've read articles, however, stating that even some members of the gay community felt anger at the announcement and believed it was staged for Hollywood’s purposes.

It so incensed me that Rowling would deceive her readers in that way, that I vowed never to read another one of her books. The fact that I'm still thinking about the issue two years later shows just how deep Rowling plunged the knife of betrayal.

Be that as it may, let's put Rowling aside for a second in order to ponder a question that arises. If as writers we have a certain trust we're obligated to maintain, how do we branch out into new, soul-stretching areas without betraying that trust? If we normally write light, fun stuff, and we have a sinister plot in our heads, are we never allowed to move over to the dark side?

No one wants to be cast into a mold, crammed into a style we’ve outgrown, writing the same old stuff until our life is over and we’re just a dusty memory on a library shelf. However, whether we want it or not we have an obligation of trust toward our readers. If we want to branch out, we can use a pseudonym, give warning in a foreword, or announce it on the jacket cover. For the rich and famous, there’s always the avenue of talk shows and radio promotions.

As for Rowling, she could have used any of those alternatives. The most easy would have been simply to warn us in advance and to make Professor Dumbledore’s actions consistent with his lifestyle. If homosexuality was a character paradox for the erstwhile Professor, (see Marcia Mickelson’s entry on character paradoxes) Rowling should have at least given us a clue.

As for me, I flit back and forth on choosing a pen name, trying to figure out which pseudonym to use for my humorous writings and which to use for my serious writings. But, no one can say I’m not trying. One of these days I’ll get it figured out, and I'd like to think that if/when I become a famous author, I won't sell out to Hollywood with one of my characters.

In the meantime, those are my feelings, and it can’t be said I didn’t give fair warning about them. Seriousness isn’t really in my nature, though, and I’ve about run of philosophical thoughts for the moment. Besides, I hear an oatmeal brownie with chocolate frosting calling to me … and I must heed its clarion call!


JoAnn Arnold said...

I agree with you, completely. I, too, felt betrayed by Rowling. It's a reminder to us as authors that we have an obligation to those who read our books. Great post.

Cindy Beck said...

JoAnn: Thanks for your comments. I love it when someone agrees with me! :)

(But, I love to hear from those who disagree, as well.)