A couple of weeks ago Ileandra received a response to a request for a review on ‘Silk Over Razor Blades.’ It has taken some time for either of us to feel able to talk about it. Still longer for me to decide to put my thoughts in a blog post so I can explore them.
I shan’t name the reviewer or the site, but after the initial, enthusiastic decision to review the book, the reviewer came back saying they had enjoyed what they read so far, but would be unable to finish it because they felt uncomfortable reading certain sections of book; namely those featuring intimacy between Saar and Mosi.
To explain, Saar is the world’s first vampire (in Ileandra’s vampire mythos) and very early in his life as a vampire, he began (and sustained) an intimate relationship with a man he met in a brothel. Yes . . . a man. He fell for and subsequently spent long years loving a man as well as his first love, a servant in the royal palace by the name of Kiya. Together they formed a threesome that loved and fought as all those in intimate relationships do.
This reviewer didn’t like it. They felt uncomfortable. They couldn’t continue.
I’m not sure what to say. Yes, I know that some people are uncomfortable with homosexuality. Yes, know that is an individual’s prerogative to decide what they do and don’t want to read. Yes, I understand that sexual relations of any kind in a book labelled ‘urban fantasy’ can sometimes come as a shock (though less and less in contemporary fantasy if you read the current offerings out there).
I know all that. I get it . . . but I can’t help feeling a little hurt.
When I first read the email, I was livid. I couldn’t believe the words before my eyes and had to put my laptop down and out of sight. If I hadn’t, I know I would have responded in a way that was rude and utterly unprofessional. Having had (lots) of time to think about it and to be more rational, I’m glad that I took the time to calm down, because reacting in such a manner would have been terrible for this reviewer and for me. In the end, I thanked the person and asked how far they did reach before deciding it wasn’t for them. I have since continued discussion with this person and ascertained that they became uncomfortable early on in the novel and continued to read anyway, because they had agreed to review. More than a third of the book later, they then decided that they could no longer continue.
Had I sent my response when I first received the email I would never have come to learn how sorry this person was and how regretful. I also would not have the relationship we have now, in which we have both agreed that I may send something else to review in which homosexual relationships are not so prominent. That, I believe, is a plus for both of us and I’m glad I was able to curb my initial urge and act like the person I know myself to be: rational, calm and polite.
However, despite all that, I didn’t apologise for the discomfort.
Thinking about it now, I still think that was the right thing to do (though I’d love your opinion on that). I would have apologised if the site stated that they preferred not to read of homosexual relationships, but they didn’t (or I was unable to find such a disclaimer). Had I known, I would never have sent the novel in the first place—there are dozens of sites and reviewers I’ve rejected for exactly that reason—because the idea of requesting reviews is to target the people you believe will judge you favourably.
And, really, what am I upset about, anyway?
- That the reviewer didn’t like my book?
- No; because they did (until until discomfort took over).
- That the reviewer didn’t finish my book?
- No; this is the second time I’ve had someone tell me they couldn’t finish the novel and, frankly put, that’s a pretty good rate given the number of people who have now read it.
- Because they can’t read intimate scenes between two men?
- . . . yes.
And that is what made me pause.
I’m no stranger to non-traditional relationships. My friends range far and wide across the LGBTQ spectrum and I myself am bisexual. I have friends in non-monogamous relationships, poly relationships, traditional heterosexual relationships, utterly open relationships, asexual relationships, the lot. I consider myself lucky and privileged to understand even the little I do about sexuality and the way relationships can and do work. I’m proud that I’m able to see beyond the traditional and explore the different ways that different people are able to love each other.
Because my friendship group is as I’ve described, it’s always a bit of a shock to see/hear/realise that this isn’t the case everywhere. That some people really just don’t like or are uncomfortable with non-traditional sexual relationships. It slaps me like a wet fish. And, as described above, at first, it makes me angry. Then it makes me sad. Then it makes me thoughtful. Lastly, which is what has driven to me to this post, it makes me determined.
So this one reviewer was unable to finish my book because it featured a homosexual (or, in truth, bisexual) polygamous relationship. So, what? I like that level of diversity in my writing because it reflects the world I see around me and the world I’m part of. Moreover, I think it’s important to educate and showcase way things really are and show people that there is nothing wrong or abnormal about two people loving each other, no matter their gender.
I will continue to write fiction as I always have, featuring characters across the LGBTQ spectrum (I’m yet to touch on the T and the Q but give me time!) Some people will like it, some people won’t, but at the end of the day, who am I writing for, anyway? Yes, I’m producing a product with a view to sell, but I wouldn’t be able to give it life and soul if it wasn’t important to me and true to what I believe and feel.
What do you think? I’m kinda desperate to know that I’m not alone and to hear the experiences of other people and reviewers. Has this happened to you? How did you handle it? Do you think I should have apologised? Would you have sent a snotty email in my place? Join the discussion folks, I really want to know.