Sum-of-Me-Beth

open communication

There’s another (yet again) clash in one very small, limited corner of the internet, but as it happens to be the corner I inhabit, and as I would prefer this not blow out of all proportion, I am going public right here and now. My hope is that it can all be settled immediately. If you are tired of all this (and I am, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were) please feel free to pass on by. (WW, I’m looking at you.)

There’s a Yahoo discussion group to discuss Diana Gabaldon’s books. It’s a great community of readers who like to talk about the Outlander series. I have been lurking on that board for years, but I’ve never posted, and there are also longer periods where I’m off doing other things and don’t check in.

A few days ago somebody posted on the forum here to ask a question. I’ll refer to this person as WB. It was a simple question. Had the title of the next book in the Wilderness series changed? Because there was a discussion to that effect on the Yahoo Gabaldon board. Also, the person who had started the discussion seemed pretty critical generally of my work.

So I popped over and indeed, the title of the thread included the words “Donati” “Body Snatchers” and “Spoilers”. Once I read the post I understood: RK (as I’ll refer to her here) had just finished Into the Wilderness, and she disliked it. A lot. She was voicing her opinion on the Gabaldon board, which of course is her right. The “Body Snatchers” reference had to do with her claim that ITW is populated by characters I have borrowed or stolen or adapted from other sources, mostly Diana’s books, and that there’s nothing original or interesting in my work.

Let me be clear: RK is entitled to her opinion. I can’t pretend that it’s nice to be accused of plagarism and lack of originality but I am also comfortable enough in my skin to let my work stand on its own merits.*** So let’s take RK’s opinion at face value: she prefers Diana’s books for a lot of different reasons, one of them having to do with the fact that she feels my characters are uninteresting and recycled.

Back at this forum I answered WB’s original question about the title confusion (no, Queen of Swords was not changing title to Body Snatchers). I clarified what I thought was going on, and I responded to the review, very briefly. As was my right.

Now this is where it gets messy. This is where you really need to pay attention. Fact: WB did not email me me the text of RK’s posts or comments on my work. The Gabaldon discussion forum is public, and anybody who has a Yahoo identity can join the group and read the posts. It’s true that WB mentioned RK’s posts, but that’s it. I see nothing wrong in that; she was asking for clarification, and I provided it. Some of the fen over at the Gabaldon forum were upset, however, and WB heard about it from RK and from others as well. I know this because WB told me.

I am a little confused why RK should be surprised that something posted on a public forum might indeed be more widely read. It also seems less than logical to me to accuse WB of bad etiquette for sharing posts from the Gabaldon forum. After all, RK got hold of my post on this whole mess somehow, most likely because somebody pointed her to it.

So let’s be clear.

1. WB did nothing wrong. She likes Diana’s books, she likes my books, she was confused and taken aback by the tone of something she read and so she asked about it. I went and had a look, and answered.

2. RK is entitled to her opinion about my work. The tone of her review is not what I would call professional or balanced or respectful, but it is certainly strongly emotive. Again: that is her right. She can be as vocally negative as she likes; she can stick her tongue out at me and blow raspberries, if it makes her feel better. Following from that, it’s also true that other people are free to agree or disagree with her, on that board or this one. I have to point out though that anyone who publically reviews a book is in fact opening up a discussion, and that in judging, they will also be judged.

3. I defend RK’s right to be negative about my books, just as I defended Beth’s right to post a negative review of one of Diana’s books. And I must point out again: Beth’s review did not appear here. I did not endorse it because I haven’t read the book. I did open up a discussion on the topic of negative reviews, pointing to Beth’s website. I did make it clear that I admired her for her willingness to put her neck out, and for her obvious love and admiration of the early books in the Outlander series. Apparently some few Gabaldon fans are still angry at me for supporting Beth’s right to post her opinions. I wonder if they will also be mad at me for supporting RK’s negative evaluation of my work.

I harbor no deep resentment toward RK, no anger or need for revenge. On the other hand, I feel no need to try to win her over, as she suggests I should. If anything at all was offensive in her posts, it was this idea that it is somehow my obligation to convince anybody of the value of my work. I suppose I could email authors who have written books that didn’t work for me. I could get in touch with John Updike or Nora Roberts or Jodi Picoult or Stephen King or Toni Morrison and offer them the opportunity to pitch their books to me, but then that would be presumptuous and less than respectful.

Finally, a point I need to make: In the course of all this back and forth, bits were copied from my website onto the Gabaldon forum boards. And I’m fine with that — I make the material public, and people are free to share it as long as it’s not done in a misleading way.

***I will point out that it has been postulated that there are only so many plots out there, and everything is a rehashing of something else. Certainly time travel has been done before, as have novels about Scotland, Revolutionary America, and the War of 1812. I have always said quite openly that I got the idea for ITW from an exercise where I put some of Jane Austen’s characters in the same room with some of Fenimore Cooper’s characters. Sparks flew, and ideas sprouted, and here I am five books later.