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Hard Bitten by Chloe Neill and the Case of the Backseat Writer

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I just finished reading Chloe Neill’s Hard Bitten, the fourth book in her Chicagoland Vampires series.  I have enjoyed the series since I first read Some Girls Bite in late 2009, and I think the books keep getting stronger and stronger.  I love how Merit’s character has grown and evolved, has reluctantly come to accept and embrace her vampiric nature.  And the ending…it packs a punch.  

Neill took a risk with this book that not many authors would be willing to take, and not surprisingly the responses are all over the place.  But what surprised me is how many people were saying things—even on Neill’s own blog—along the lines of “You shouldn’t have done _____,” or “You need to do _____ in the next book.”

I think, in this age of media saturation, the distinction between “reader” and “writer” has been blurred quite a bit.  Certainly, many readers are also writers, and all writers (I hope) are also readers.  Fan fiction has become more popular—and certainly more accessible—in recent years, and readers can go onto Amazon or Goodreads (or, if they’re more ambitious, start a blog of their own) to give their opinions on their favorite books.  For the most part, I think this is a good thing.  Reading is a very solitary activity, but the internet has given us book geeks a community of people who share the same interests.  In addition, it’s also given readers much quicker and easier ways to connect with authors they love.  In the past, readers who wanted to contact an author were usually forced to write to the publisher and hope the publisher would pass their letter along to the writer and that the writer would response.  No more.  Twitter, Facebook, websites, author blogs—these authors can be your cool cyberspace pals.

Except it also means many readers forget one very important thing: you are not the writer.

Period.  The reader doesn’t control the book; the writer does.  And I think this failure to distinguish the role of the producer from the role of the consumer is happening—again, as a result of the instantaneousness of cyberspace—with all entertainment mediums.  One only has to think of the backlash over LOST’s ending last year, all the “It shouldn’t have ended this way; it should have ended THAT way” comments from viewers to know what I’m talking about.  But unless your name was Damon Lindelof or Carlton Cuse, you didn’t get to make that decision.

But the fervor over Neill’s book reminds me a bit of the plot of Stephen King’s Misery.  In that case, an obsessed fan/killer nurse kidnapped the author of her favorite series after an automobile accident and demanded that he write another novel in the series resurrecting the main character.  She keeps him drugged and immobilized until he obliges.  In the movie adaptation, one of the most memorable scenes was the “hobbling”; in the book, she actually cuts off his foot.

Admittedly, none of the responses I’ve seen to Hard Bitten seem quite so…sociopathic.  On the other hand, if I were Neill, I’d be a bit worried if I had a car accident or ran into anyone resembling Kathy Bates.

On some level, I understand.  As an avid reader, I frequently become emotionally attached to the characters in my favorite fiction.  And since I’m generally a fan of the happy ending in my fiction, I want these characters to end up happy and healthy.  But since I’m the reader, not the writer, that’s not always up to me.

Does that mean I agree with or like every choice authors make—even authors I already like?  No, of course not.  But as a reader, they’re not my choices to make.  I have two options: either I like the book, or I don’t.  When it’s an ongoing series, I have one more option: either I keep reading, or I don’t.  And there are definitely series I’ve given up altogether because I don’t like the direction that they’re going in.

But I have a little more faith in Neill than that.  The Chicagoland Vampires series has been one of the most consistently entertaining in urban fantasy for four books now, and I’ll be waiting anxiously for the release of Drink Deep in November to find out what happens.

But wherever Neill decides to take it, it’s not my job to rewrite it.

Author: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

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