Show and Tell

I’ve been dipping into various spoilers across the web, which means that I’ve been in close proximity to the people I usually avoid. That means the people who hate Sookie, and the people who hate CH. You know the ones I mean, the people who complain that CH has sold out, extended her contract way past due, and is, in the process, “ruining” Eric. It’s gotten so pervasive that it’s even part of her interviews now. I don’t understand this idea that they should talk about all this, and come in to give a serve on everything. I don’t like Stephen King books. You know what you don’t find me reading and discussing at every opportunity I find? Stephen King books. So I just gotta say something about some of these stupid notions.

Firstly, the idea that CH has “drawn out” the books, and was going to end the series at book 10. That her publisher “made her” delay the ending. Or she did, or something. This doesn’t really hold up to logic. Getting a publisher isn’t quite like having a boss. Particularly when it comes to creative stuff, that’s even more difficult.

I know academics who publish books, and it doesn’t quite work that way. The publishing house doesn’t say “Hey, why don’t you change two or three words, and then release a second edition, that way making more money?” It is the academic who says “You know, stuff is outdated in the first one, I need a second edition”. It’s not the publishing house who thinks it’s a good idea – it’s the author. It works the same way with creative publishing.

Let’s say that CH had actually planned to write a series of ten books. As a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants author, with no outline, I fail to see how she could actually pin it down to a number, but let’s say that she did. We know that Dead Until Dark was written as a standalone, and then she got a contract to actually make a series. The thing is, that publishers don’t give people contracts that are so huge…just in case they end up losing money. There’s no point in saying “Okay, so it’s 1991, we think you’ll make it big, and make it to the best seller list. Here’s your advance on what we think you’ll sell – go, spend it up with your one million dollars and let’s all hope like hell that vampire books will be popular over the next 20 years.” That sounds like a publishing house being pretty stupid.

What they usually do, is give a reasonable contract, like say three books, and then see how well that sells. An author would have to be a major dickhead to write as if those three books were the only ones that would sell. The author is supposed to be telling a story, not trying to fit their word count into those books. What the author and the publisher do is hope that the books sell well, and then write up another contract for more. The author doesn’t fit their story into three books if they think it will take more – that would merely ensure that no one likes a story crammed into so few books – and it doesn’t give them a way to sell more of their books.

CH could show at the end of Dead as a Doornail (where her first of the series contracts ended) that people liked the books, would buy more. Therefore, the publisher renewed that contract. It would have been stupid for the publisher to speculate that they should give a thirteen book contract back with the second book. Publishing isn’t a charity – they give an advance to people who sell books, and it would be rather foolish to speculate that in thirteen years, the books will be selling well. Back in 2007, CH got a contract for two more books – but I doubt anyone would really believe that Dead in the Family was actually the original planned ending for the series, right? Indeed, CH never intended to stop it there at all. She says in that link that there’s stuff she’s getting paid for, and that’s completely separate to what she’s intending to write.

It works the same with aspiring authors. They write the book, and then they get the contract. It’s just once you’ve established that you can sell your books, they give you a few more books on the contract. You’re more of a sure bet to speculate on – both that it’ll sell and that you can commit to writing a book and finish it. It’s not up to writers how many books they get contracted for, but it’s not as if CH would accept a contract for more books if she didn’t want to write any more. As for the idea that publishers can force a writer to eke out a series for the sake of money? Why the hell would they want to do that? Trends change, and forcing an author to make more of a book series would just mean shooting yourself in the foot over the whole business. You want to be ahead of the trends and make a best seller, not behind the trends, hoping to ride the coattails forever.

Not to mention, that all of the supposed reason she has to eke out the books (True Blood being the totality of that reason) why would they want her to write more Sookie if they’ll happily give her a contract for another non-Sookie series. I don’t really understand the reasoning of this, unless it’s a lack of understanding how business and capitalism works – or a lack of understanding on what readers will buy. Judging by the near constant complaints, it’s not as if publishers could possibly believe that readers are mindless automatons who will just buy things because they’re there. Otherwise they’d give contracts to everyone who approached them. CH gets her contracts based on the fact that people buy the books because they like them. I do, and I think many other people do too – even though I’m not one of those loudly complaining about “cash cows”.

But let’s make believe that publishers actually pressure writers to write more. Then why the fuck did the Harry Potter series end? Why is Sookie ending? Have the publishers just plain old forgotten they can bully writers into writing more? Or are we supposed to believe that CH thought that eking out Sookie would be a good idea? Well then, why the fuck did she stop if that’s what she was doing? I can assure you, there are writers who keep writing books about stuff with no signs of stopping. Laurell K. Hamilton has what, twenty fucking books about Anita Blake, and no signs of stopping. CH would have to be a prancing lightweight next to that.

I dare say that if she really wanted to eke it out, she could have done a way better job than what she’s doing now. I can guarantee that if she wrote ten books about Sookie and Eric and their sex life, and their relationship talks, it would sell a mint. That’s basically 70% of fucking fan fiction (the rest being stuff that’s something new to read and not just treading the same ground of “My bonded, your juices, let’s have a shower, bang”). No one would complain about the books and books full of fluff – they’d snap it up and call CH the next big thing. If CH really wanted to sell more books, she could just do that – she wouldn’t even have to pretend at plot and meta themes, and all the other stuff.  No politics, just boning. Easy. She’d probably even sell more of her back catalogue too, because new readers would buy in the hopes of sex.

So it’s pretty simple in the end. CH writes the series she wants, and because they sell, publishers give her more contracts, which means more advances, so she can write those books. It’s not because publishing houses are being nice, it’s because what she writes, people want to buy. And then complain about…but they still want to buy. Which is lucky, because she’s had 13 books she’s wanted to write in the same world on the same subjects. It’s not because the publisher decided to bully her to write as much as they want – otherwise they wouldn’t let her stop, would they? If she wanted to sell out, she could sell twenty books of porn, and the demand would be unbelievable.

One of the other complaints that I’ve read is that she’s deliberately stirring the pot, and giving vague answers, to keep SLs, BLs and ELs on the hook for buying more books. Meh, that’s entirely possible. No point in writing books if you’re going to give a rundown of those points in interviews. I don’t know that many would be pleased with a summary, and I know that while I’m a spoiler junkie (for certain things) that that doesn’t mean that everyone is.  Also, considering the amount people seem to want off her for free, then surely she should actually make money on her writing, right?

However, what I think it actually is is a real difference in what readers seem to expect. There’s a contingent of people who have complained that Sookie and Eric/Bill haven’t sat down to discuss things, go into excruciating detail over what was done or said, spell it all right out there on the page, go over everything like a dog returning to its vomit. I have a feeling that this is because of television. People have become really fucking bad at reading subtext. I experienced it in the Harry Potter fandom too. There was a group of Harry/Hermione shippers who thought that the two characters were destined to be together. They didn’t actually read all the subtext about Ron and Hermione, or the subtext about Harry and Ginny. Hermione was friendly with Harry, and they were fast friends, so therefore, they’re destined to be together.

We get the same subtext issues in this fandom too. You can even find ELs swearing that they’ve read the subtext right, and BLs asserting same, and each laughing over how the other side is completely clueless. You even find people favouring subtext over actual text. BLs for example, often talk about how she must still love Bill because she lets him stay around (like he’d leave if he’s been asked – he doesn’t), and give that precedence over the fact that Sookie states in plain speaking that she doesn’t love Bill any more. And on the EL side, they’ll quote bits about how Eric threatened to torture her out loud, in front of Sookie and other characters, and then read assume the bit about saving her from Longshadow is evidence that Eric is a liar who lies to Sookie all the time to her face.

The big battle here is show versus tell. CH – if she told readers outright about things that would actually make her concerted efforts at telling a story a big fucking waste of time. She wants the books to stand by themselves, not explain everything over again. I mean, you’re not actually supposed to tell your readers things that they can’t glean from the books unless it’s extra information that is not necessary to the narrative, and yet interesting to readers. Or sometimes, things Sookie doesn’t know and will never know.  That makes your book a moot point. The point to things with a subtext is to create discussion. It’s not for the writer to come in and stomp all over it in big boots and tell them what she wants them to know. Otherwise they’d be the “Sookie Stackhouse Lectures“.

I think perhaps that television has given some people this idea that all media is mindless and simple. That one must merely turn on The Bold and the Beautiful, and there’ll be endless relationship discussions and spelling out clearly who loves who and why they love them. Instant gratification for everything you want to know. Here’s an example of subtext rather than text from the last book:

“They’re…I don’t know how to ask this, but they’re cold right?”
India wasn’t the first person who’d tried to find a delicate
way to ask me that. There wasn’t any delicate way.
“Not room temperature,” I said. I left it at that,
because any more was none of anyone else’s business.
“Damn,” she said, after a moment.
After a longer moment, she said, “Ew.”
I shrugged. She opened her mouth, looked as though
she wanted to ask me something else, and then she closed it.

Deadlocked, p. 53

Now, it would be easy to say “Humans often think it’s gross to sleep with vampires because they’re not warm like a human would be. Even though they don’t say that to me all the time.”  Frankly, that would be a completely crappy book. I took a show that CH gave us, and turned it into a tell. Like a summary of what happened but without all the lovely subtext that it would take me far longer to tell. So if I really wanted to make an accurate summary, I would have to do far more telling. I would have to instead write the following:

India asked me if vampires were cold, inferring that in bed their entire body would be cold. I had had people ask me this before, trying to wrap their heads around what it was like to sleep with a vampire, who is basically a dead body. People were often grossed out at the idea of a cold dick or a cold tongue, and had asked me before. Since they wanted an answer, they would try to be polite about it, and not offend me. However, I had gotten sick of the dancing around the subject. It couldn’t stay polite, and I really didn’t want to have all kinds of invasive questions about my sex life and whether I liked cold penis, or had some sort of necrophilia fetish. I always stated it bluntly because that usually put a stop to ruder questions, and made it clear that I was not the vampire-fucking information desk. I did that with India. Because she was friendly and my friend, I didn’t mind too much when she expressed distaste. After all, it’s no skin off my nose. I didn’t mind being with someone cold, and India definitely wasn’t going to be sleeping with vampires since she didn’t like the idea of cold bodies. She probably would have asked more questions, but she didn’t because she wanted to be my friend and not offend me. Not only was this intended to shed light on my growing friendship with India, but it’s supposed to shed light on the fact that not everyone wants to fuck vampires, and that they’re not the popular choice. Even if India and all the other women thought Eric was a ‘fine hunk of man’, they also think that being with a vampire who is cold is gross.  

Fuck. That was exhausting. And I think it’s as boring as shit to read, not to mention way longer than actually using subtext. It reads like a robot reporting on human relations. CH writes all this wonderful subtext there in the story for us to read, and then some readers want her to not only repeat herself, but greatly elaborate on everything. I can’t imagine anything more boring, personally. Nor anything more fucking tiresome. I’ve watched a few fan type events with CH, and there’s always someone, gotta ask the question Google would give in five minutes – like “What do you think of True Blood?” or “Will Sookie ever become a vampire?”. How much more tedious than if you write something the reader has to work out, they then ask you to spell it all out, possibly in capslock for them.

This is not stirring the pot – this is the author expecting the readers to…well…read. And then discuss or think, and then come to conclusions. Even if CH came out tomorrow and said “Sookie is going to have a HEA with Sam/Bill/Eric” I doubt very much whether everyone would say “Oh, okay. Cool we know. Now let’s come together and talk about something else.” Because all that would happen is that they’d fight over whether that’s the right way to do it, and how it could possibly be. It would not in fact stop all this shit. Readers would then clamour for more details until CH finds herself telling the book in a long winded boring way, and having to do it over and over. And spoiling people on what would have gone in a book, but has now become part of the Sookie Stackhouse Lectures.

Part of the clamouring for long arse romantic scenes is that some readers just can’t read subtext. I think television has taught them to be lazy, and some writers cater to that laziness. They will put long protracted scenes where everything that might be a concern is spelled out on the page. As I understand it from Jenny Trout’s recaps of 50 Shades, there was actually a chapter on the fucking contract that the protagonist signed, allowing the provision for Chedward (thank you Jen) to anally fist Ana. As I understand it, that didn’t actually happen in the books, and yet people read about this contingency plan for the anal fisting scene, despite the fact that there was none.

Perhaps that’s what readers expect from CH – to spell out every single contingency. “What would Eric do if Sookie lost an arm, and would he still love her?” A question never fucking asked in a real marriage, but since we thought of it, why not ask to spell out the texture, quantity, quality and possible duration of their love, so that we can do algebraic equations on the love itself. My God – what a way to dissect something fragile and unknown to fucking death and simultaneously remove all meaning from it.

Honestly, I don’t know how to respond to this want other than “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”. There’s a limit to knowing – in books and in real life. Expecting to have definitive answers on how Eric is going to deal with Sookie’s mortality as a prerequisite of a HEA is almost fucking impossible. And you know what? I worry about how my husband will deal with my death, and I still don’t have the answer, and I still married him. I am just a crazy woman – winging it as if I’m actually living life and just hoping like hell he’ll be okay – because even if he can’t hack it, I’m not actually willing to break his heart now so that I can save him from having his heart broken later. Which would be rather fucking stupid of me.

The last idea – the one about “ruining” Eric. No, that’s not right. You can’t read good. I talk about it here all the time – the scary and dodgy shit Eric has been doing and saying from the start of the books. He didn’t change into the perfect man because you fucking ignored it. Just now, harassing the shit out of CH for daring to make it something you can’t ignore doesn’t mean she “ruined” him. The more time Sookie spends with Eric, the more she sees his faults – that’s how close relationships work. The more time Sookie spends with Sam, the more you find out his faults too. Same with Bill – he accrued so many faults she stopped dating him.

I actually can’t believe that CH had to mention this in an interview – that a small and vocal minority get pissed at Eric being “ruined”. Give me a goddamn break. He still had faults in the first book – ones people ignored. Like the fact that Longshadow would have killed Sookie if she didn’t fling her arm up, like the fact that Eric threatened Sookie with hired goons, like the fact that Eric broke his promise that no one would die if she helped him, like the fact that he tried to eat her until she threw Ginger at him. Surely if Eric was so awesome no one could get one over him then Longshadow wouldn’t have been able to steal from him in the first place. So, you know. Stupid.

Eric entered the narrative with issues, and surprise surprise, he still has them. He’s not an omniscient God. He’s just a vampire sheriff who owns a bar, who sometimes gets things going wrong in his vicinity. He was cold then, and he didn’t really warm up a hell of a lot. For all of the love for Eric, you’d think they’d actually take notice of the damn character, and think about him. The fact of the matter is that when we first see Eric in Dead Until Dark, he’s imposing, scary and a big old bully. He’s not some solicitous red roses guy with a love sonnet in his pocket.

But apparently, they’re ready for Eric to be the Eric of Dead to the World who surprise surprise, had issues as well. Like the fact that he didn’t appreciate the hit to his pride when Claudine told the vampires they should have sent someone with Sookie to the hospital. Like the fact that he didn’t cook her dinner and have that waiting on the table at home. Despite the fact that with his “I was never a Christian” he seems to have had lots of vague knowledge about his life, and yet hardly ever talked about himself. Like the fact that they had more sex than relationship discussions, and even in those, Eric never suggested that Sookie should stay at home eating bon bons while he worked. Like the fact that Eric heard Sookie say she could be killed for harbouring him and still stayed there.

To my mind, you actually like the character or you don’t. You don’t build up a scenario in your head through selective reading and say that none of the characters flaws have any meaning, and then squeal like a stuck pig when you see them. There were flaws in his actions and character in the first book, in the fourth book, and as we get to know Eric more and more, they continue to be there. He won’t be a one-dimensional vampire lothario with solicitousness and red roses and the love sonnet in the last book either, because he never was that character.

This idea that the author doesn’t know her own creations, when they come from her head just…I don’t have any words for all of that. I just can’t think of what to say if people actually believe that CH wrote all this via fucking ouija board or channelled it from the great beyond. I don’t think she did. She’s a Baptist. They’re not the type. No one else knows the characters better than she does, and she’s made it all amply clear exactly what the characters are like. If you don’t like what you read, maybe you don’t like Eric like you thought you did. It’s really simple.

Maybe you can finally see why Sookie was so stand-offish for so many books. See, she had to look into the faces of the waitresses and the accountant Eric was prepared to torture if Sookie didn’t comply. They weren’t faceless extras to her that she reduced to words that could readily be discarded. She could be a dickhead and say, like the fans “Hey, he probably doesn’t actually mean shit he says out loud. I think I’ll bone that magnificent bastard.” Now it’s all up in fans’ faces, they don’t like it. But it’s always been front and centre for Sookie to see. It’s not because Bill ruined her vision of Eric – it’s because she wasn’t deluding herself to make it fit a romantic narrative. The scales were never on Sookie’s eyes. They were on the eyes of the fangirls. And now they don’t like him because they’ve gotten up close and personal on all these things? This irony is fucking delicious.

So, that’s my little long rant on the stupid stuff I see around. I doubt anyone who says this stuff would read this here, but still, I just had to say it.  Honestly, I just don’t know how CH stays so nice, or why any author would be encouraged to communicate with their fans. While I’m sure that it used to happen to authors via hate mail (as in physical letters) nowadays we can all see what trash they’d get in their mailboxes. They couldn’t pay me enough money to put up with Round 164432th of “You’ve ruined Eric” brought right to my door. If she sells books to these people, I’d say that their money pays for the amount of grief she gets as a result.