Guest Post: “What I’ve Learned From Readers” by K.D.

KD.pngMeet K.D.

K.D. lives and writes in North Carolina, but has spent time in Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, New Hampshire, Montana, and Washington. (Common theme until NC: Snow. So, so much snow.) Mercifully short careers in food service, interactive television, corporate banking, retail management, and bariatric furniture has led to a much less short career in Higher Education. The first book in his urban fantasy series THE TAROT SEQUENCE, called THE LAST SUN, was published by Pyr in June 2018. The follow-up, THE HANGED MAN, will be published in September 2019. K.D. is represented by Sara Megibow at kt literary, and Kim Yau at Paradigm for media rights.

 

The Guest Post.

What I’ve Learned From My Readers.
Everyone tells you the same thing: DO NOT read the reviews on your novel!

It’s crazy…. Literally everyone has an opinion on it. People who’ve never written a book. People who want to write books. People who’ve written lots of books. All of them seemed to say the same thing. Ominously. Like even the act of opening a reader review will cause a pale girl with lots of dark hair to climb through my computer screen.

But I did. From the start. From the first one, to the one that was written yesterday. I’ve read every word that people have taken the time to write about THE LAST SUN.

Anyway, this is me: an urban fantasy author who writes about a reimagined Atlantis in modern day society, built loosely around the theme of the tarot deck’s major arcana, with main characters who just happen to be gay. My novels center around a buddy-duo named Rune and Brand, and their adventures in the sprawling world of New Atlantis. I’m hoping to turn this into a nine novel series – 3 trilogies, actually. The overall series is called the Tarot Sequence, the first novel is THE LAST SUN, and the follow-up, to be published in December 2019, is THE HANGED MAN.

I didn’t know what to expect when the first novel came out. I’m an older writer – old enough, at least, to remember a world that looked a lot different from the one today with regards to casually including gay characters in your story. I didn’t know if my series would be pigeon-holed as simply “Gay Fiction” or if by marketing it as Sci-Fi I’d be enduring the wrath of unnamed straight readers who picked up the book assuming Rune was a red-blooded straight male who would obviously never fall in love with someone named Addam.

The truth? Most people were awesome. My readers rock this universe. They are kind and effusive. They share artwork and song recommendations. 95% of my reviews are overwhelmingly positive. I worked my ass off writing HANGED MAN, largely because these people are so exceptionally great. I owe them a great follow-up.

But for a second….let’s talk about the 5% of reviews that weren’t overwhelmingly positive. I read those too. This is a list of what I learned about my readers (my audience); my writing; and the thickness of my skin.

  • Oh wow did I mess up my portrayal of female characters. Looking back, I thought I was Mr. Diversity because I had an urban fantasy with characters who just happened to be gay men! And while, sure, I think there’s a market for that, I also learned that it’s not enough. It’s no excuse to omit vibrant, strong, interesting, powerful female characters. I literally had none. NONE. Those that I did include were either villains or heavily-flawed people. I am deeply ashamed of this, and worked hard to show a better balance in HANGED MAN. This is, by far, one of the most powerful things I learned from my audience. I can’t wait for people to meet Anna and Lady Death, in particular. And Aunt Diana returns for at least one scene where she kind of beautifully puts Rune in his place.
  • And along those same lines? My character were overwhelmingly white. Part of that originally had to do with my own sensitivity, and not wanting to appropriate other cultures. But I’ve learned that’s no excuse not to include people of color in my story. So I start correcting that in HANGED MAN, and will correct it even more in Novel #3. Lady Death, who makes her first appearance in HANGED MAN, is a strong black woman who will get along well with Rune, and play a huge part in Novel #3. And the Dawncreeks are a family with a bloodline that traces back to the Wampanoag (not unlike Rune himself)—an American Indian tribe I’ve mentioned before in the context of their importance in East Coast history. And the Arcana—the rulers of New Atlantis –are an extremely multicultural bunch. Since they’ve had business interests in every part of the human world, it wouldn’t make sense to have them be anything but diverse.
  • I also learned it’s OK not to have a knock-down, dragged-out action sequence every other chapter. Now this is a much more subtle learning. I think genre novels always have a fair balance of action and narrative; but “action” doesn’t always have to mean a fight sequence. Early in HANGED MAN, there’s a long sequence that takes place in a red light district called the Green Docks, which is comprised of long-lost ghost ships. I learned that I didn’t need to use this as a backdrop for a fight, because the backdrop itself was the action. It was spooky and haunted, and Rune, Brand, and Addam had to be on their toes the entire time they explored it to gather information on a runaway named Layne. I didn’t necessarily need to have more than that. Atmosphere is action.
  • And sure, in reading all of the first novel reviews, I got some homophobia. Shockingly little, however. So little that I actually was able to laugh most of it off. There was one person who gave me a low-star review, but also published their Kindle notes. And in their Kindle notes, I saw the point where their enjoyment of the story turned into a rejection of the gay theme. (The focus of the story isn’t on a gay character; the main character just happens to be gay, and a potential love interest that appears halfway into the story is, indeed, a man.) The reviewer made a Kindle note to the affect: “Oh great, this just turned into another homoerotic bottom boy novel. What a waste.” And most recently, a reader made comments about my pandering to the diversity crowd by having a character who wasn’t a “boring straight white male.” I should note that in both cases, I anonymously reprinted the comments on Twitter with this caption: MORE TO COME!
  • …..BUUUUT I learned, hypothetically, that the person who left that borderline homophobic comment may see that I quoted him or her on Twitter, because the next thing I knew that last 3-star review became a 2-star review, and was immediately followed by another 2-star review by a new reviewer who just happened to have reviewed no novel except for LAST SUN. So…maybe I learned not to engage? We’ll see if that sticks.

OK! Now that I’ve blown this blog entry’s word count request out of the water, I’ll stop here. Lord knows there are plenty of other lessons I’ve learned, but these are the Big Ones. These are the lessons that heavily impacted how I wrote & structured THE HANGED MAN.

Thank you for the opportunity to write this, Rae! I’ve been wanting to put this into words for a while!

 

Thank you K.D. for sharing!

THE HANG MAN comes out in December of this year!

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