First, let me say that I don’t know how Dead Ever After, the thirteenth and final book in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series, ends. I don’t know who Sookie ends up with but, gauging by the negative reactions flying around, I have a guess about who it isn’t. I fizzled a bit on the series a few books back and haven’t caught up yet, although I have bought them all.
What does the current hoo-ha over this series have to do with our Monday genre discussion? It’s not so much that Charlaine Harris writes paranormal, but that genre fiction fans are the most rabid readers, the most dedicated readers and fans, out there. As authors of paranormal, we have the absolute best readers, bar none. They’re loyal and passionate and enthusiastic. We love their sense of ownership in our books. I’m amazed and delighted when someone takes time to email and tell me why my character DJ should end up with Jake instead of Alex, or why the undead pirate Jean Lafitte would be the best suitor.
But I don’t know how I’d react if readers—thousands and thousands of them (oh but that I HAD thousands)—hated how I’d ended my series. Hated that I’d ended it at all. Threatened to kill themselves because of how I ended it. Threatened to kill ME because of how I ended it. I suspect I wouldn’t take it well at all.
And that’s what has happened to Charlaine Harris. If you’ve been locked in a Siberian cave somewhere, you can read how it all began in this Wall Street Journal article. She’s canceled promotional appearances for the book. She’s staying at home when she should be basking in the celebration of this series that took paranormal adult fiction as mainstream as Twilight did for the teen crowd.
So here’s the question. To what extent do books and our characters, once they go out into the world, still belong to the authors, and to what extent do they belong to the readers who’ve talked about them, read them, loved them, and promoted them? Do the characters still belong to the authors when they get so big that they transcend the books that birthed them? I mean, there are millions of people who watch the HBO “True Blood” series who’ve never cracked open one of the novels (which is a pity, because as good as the TV show is—and believe me, I wouldn’t kick Alexander Skaarsgard out of bed for crying red tears—it has very, very little to do with the plots of the books).
Charlaine Harris created these characters. Doesn’t she have the right to end the series when she gets tired of writing it? When it feels stale to her? And when she decides to end the series, knowing how fans feel and that they’re jonesing to see Sookie end up with a certain someone, does Charlaine Harris (or any author ending an uber-popular series) have some obligation to provide an ending that she knows will give the majority of people what they want? Or does she doggedly stay true to her original vision because it’s HER vision?
I think a lot of Kim Harrison’s longtime Hollows readers, including myself, want to see Rachel Morgan end up with Trent Kalamack at the end of her final book year after next. But does Kim Harrison have any obligation to do that? She’s said in interviews that she’s known from the beginning where that series will end, just as Charlaine Harris said she always knew who Sookie would end up with. Should fans influence that?
It’s an interesting dilemma for an author. Tomorrow ends a new sort of venture for me—a Kindle Serial novel. Subscribers to the serial get about 10,000 words a week for nine weeks automatically downloaded to their readers, and the first “episode” of the novel came out while I was writing episode four. My publisher’s idea was that it would be a “living novel,” with discussion boards where people could perhaps influence the ending of the book because it was still being written. As an author, it was fun to write in this different way (albeit scary), and I did get interesting feedback as far as what characters were resonating with readers. I didn’t change the ending I knew I’d have all along, but I have reconsidered who would be the starring player in the second book because the secondary character I find most interesting as a writer doesn’t seem to be the one that’s resonated with most readers. Do I write the one that most interests me, or the one that seems to most interest my readers? I haven’t yet made that call.
I have no answers to all these questions. The writer in me says if I create the characters and their stories, it’s my decision as to who lives, who dies, and when the story ends. The reader in me who has been bitterly disappointed by the endings to books in the past doesn’t understand the fanaticism of the reaction to Dead Ever After, but does understand the disappointment. It’s like thirteen years of foreplay with the sex-on-a-stick guy, and then ending up with a two-minute quickie in the the back storeroom with sexy’s socially awkward stepbrother. Or something like that.
But interesting questions to ponder, whether you’re an author or a reader. What have you thought about the Sookie Maelstrom?