Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Most Hurtful Reader Letter I've Received
Yesterday in my New Year's Revolution post I mentioned receiving a very hurtful reader letter over the holidays. In fact it came the day after Christmas. I read it just before turning off my computer for the night. Oh, boy. I did nothing immediately--just slept on it. At first I thought I wouldn't answer, but I awoke the following day with different ideas.
Here's the letter. It's about Always Watching, book #1 in the young adult Rayne Tour series, co-written with my daughter, Amberly. The healing mentioned in the first paragraph is on my Web site.
Dear Mrs. Collins;
I was very encouraged and impressed by God's goodness to you as I read your account of your miraculous healing.
After reading of your healing, I am even more disappointed than at first by your book "always watching". Yes, it was suspenseful. My thirteen year old purchased it for me and her sisters to share as a Christmas gift, spending her hard earned babysitting money. As I read the back, it sounded interesting and godly. We expected it to be about a teen relying on the power of God to get her through unusually tough times. Unfortunately, it seems that God was mentioned to lure Christian teens to purchase and read a book that is not about Him or His power.The main character has no relationship with God at all, and He is barely mentioned. There certainly was no godly moral. I understand that the characters may in the following books, become closer to God. However, this book was sold as a single book, not a set, and so we see it on it's own merits, which, I am sorry to say, are few. I'm sure my daughter was attracted to the fact that it was a mother/daughter writing team. How can you defile your own daughter with this terribly ugly story? Please realize that when your book speaks of the most high God on its cover, it is expected that He will have more than a scant few mentions throughout the entire book. I am quite disappointed in Zondervan for publishing this book, and in you for writing it. May God help you see the power you wield through your pen, and purify it.
Whew. I've had people not like my books before. But no one has ever accused me of "defiling" my daughter. Can you think of a worse personal attack against a mother? Nor has anyone else told me my writing needs to be "purified."
The writer of this letter is responding to an issue we've discussed before here on F&F: the level of spiritual content in Christian fiction. (Check out this post, written just a few weeks previously.) To her, the content was too little. But instead of just feeling the story wasn't right for her, she chose to attack the entire book, and me as well. Her tone was judgmental enough that I didn't think she'd listen to a thing I said if I answered her. But then I got to worrying about the 13-year-old who bought the book. No doubt her mother was letting her know the book is no good and probably not allowing any of the kids to read it. I felt bad that the girl would be disappointed. I thought the least I could do was offer to personally refund her money. I wanted to be gracious. At the same time I didn't think it was a bad thing to tell this woman she really hurt me. She'd read the story of my healing--could she not see my heart?
I was very sad to read your letter of disappointment in my book Always Watching. Sad mostly because it apparently disappointed your 13-year-old, who spent her money on it. First, please send me your daughter’s name and address. I will personally send her a check to refund her money.
The Rayne Tour series is about a rock star’s daughter—someone not in Christian circles at all and with no thought of God at first. It’s the story of how such a teen in the secular world comes to understand, through the help of a Christian friend, that there’s a God who’s “Always Watching.” (As the back cover says, “Where is God at times like this?”) In the jam-packed two days of trauma that Shaley faces, she begins to turn toward God, at the end vowing to find the truth about her heavenly father.
Please understand that while the spiritual content may not be what you expected, this series is written for Christians and nonChristians alike. This is the kind of book your daughter could give to a nonChristian who has no thought of God, and through reading Shaley’s experiences, can come to see God is also watching over her as well. Yours is the only letter of this kind I’ve received. The others from mothers and daughters have been very favorable.
Perhaps you lashed out at me so strongly because of your disappointment for your own daughter. I can understand that. We all want the best for our daughters. You should know how very hurtful your letter was. I pray over every book. “God, whom is this book written for? What person do you want to reach through it?” You’re right, I do know God’s power intimately. I’ve seen it in my own life. God’s power shines particularly strongly through the evil in this world—and that’s what I write about. I’ve received many letters from people who’ve come closer to God—or become a Christian in the first place—because of my books. They’ve seen evil. Perhaps they’ve lived it. Through my books they see how God shines through in such times. The level of spiritual content in each of my books is right for that character and that story.
The most hurtful thing you accused me of is “defiling” my own daughter—the last thing I’d ever want to do. I prayed daily as I wrote Always Watching. Did you pray before sending me your letter? I’m a mother, just like you. Perhaps suspense is simply not for you and your family. That’s fine. At the same time, thousands of other readers who enjoy suspense are uplifted by the message of God’s love woven through my stories.
Again, I’m very sorry you were so disappointed. Please send me your address so I can refund your daughter’s money.
Blessings to you and your family this Christmas season.
I did not receive a reply.
Two things I'm reminded of by this experience: (1) As a writer, I'll never please everyone. And sometimes people will outright attack me. (2) As a reader, I need to resist being judgmental of what another Christian author chooses to put in his/her book. That author's audience simply may not include me.
What do you think of my answer? Note: please don't lash out against the writer of this letter. I want to direct the comments toward ourselves. Would you have responded at all? What can you learn from this as a writer and/or reader?