I’ve received a couple of anonymous expert reviews of the first thirty pages of Sacred Blood. Honestly the only real helpful information between the two is just how much two people could vary in their opinions so drastically. If scores were grades in high school, one would have failed me and one would have given me an A.
Now I don’t expect to hear only favorable things about what I do. In fact, when I only hear positive, I start wondering if anyone’s really paying attention. However a couple things he said have been weighing heavily on me.
The first is what I call the Twilight Effect. I’ve noticed this in regard to many other books. Readers tend to try finding similarities between male protagonists and Edward Cullen, and will declare them to be the same even when the only similarities are that they’re the same sex. I’ve questioned readers on how characters such as Sir Lancelot, Pyramus, and even the real life Prince Albert, can possibly be like Edward. Well, they’re men who fell in love. Okay, but that doesn’t mean anything. Most men fall in love. We won’t say they’re all the same for it.
I’ve found my own Tristan compared to Edward, and the only actual comparisons have been that they’re superhuman men who fall for human women who both have moments of seeming sad. Sometimes the superhuman aspect is left out. Always left out is that Edward didn’t know anything about Bella, and his moping was because he wanted to literally eat her and took that to mean they were destined to be together. Tristan, on the other hand, got to know Juliette, started to love her slowly, and his sadness was due to her being hurt by her boyfriend.
However, thanks to the Twilight Effect, readers keep comparing male characters to Edward and glom on to any similarities, no matter how small, to think of them as the same. The ironic exception to this seems to be Christian Grey who is a fan fiction version of Edward. I suspect the difference is because fans of Fifty Shades are defending the origins of the Fifty Shades books by claiming they’re significantly different than the source material.
I’ve asked several people how to prevent a comparison to Edward, and the answer, when there is one aside from “I don’t know,” has been to not have the guy and girl fall for each other in any way. So does this mean Stephenie Meyer now owns the romance genre, however tenuous her claim to be a romance writer is at all?
The other thing this reviewer said that has been bothering me is actually upsetting. He (I’m convinced that reviewer is a man) asked why she doesn’t just leave, and said it’s not believable that someone in a bad relationship would stay where there don’t seem to be any redeeming qualities in the abuser, and went on to question why she continued packing his sports bag instead of getting medical care when he dislocated her shoulder.
Just let that sink in a moment. I had to. I sat in my car a good five minutes trying to grasp the meaning of the words. They’re a baby step away from victim-blaming.
When I was 18, I was a Juliette. I was a young woman in a bad relationship with no resources of my own and nowhere to go. I wanted to leave, but couldn’t. Well, I supposed I could have if I was willing to walk out the door and go right to the street. But what kind of person would use that to say someone can always “just” leave?
Juliette’s in a bad situation, one tens of millions of American and British woman have been in. Realistically, what do you do? What do you do when you don’t have the money to just get another place and most government resourced for battered women give priority to those with young children? You either stay and hope things get better, or you leave and likely will end up homeless, hungry, and in danger from strangers. Sometimes the danger you know is less frightening than the danger you don’t know. This is why I think the reviewer is a man. Men don’t have to worry that every person they meet in the darkness at night will want to rape them, so leaving home to strike out alone isn’t quite as terrifying as for a woman who will be a target. This doesn’t even touch on the effects abuse can take on a woman’s self esteem and sense of value, things that many victim-blamers won’t even try to understand.
Claiming a woman should just leave is so close to blaming her for her abuse that it’s hard to argue that it’s not outright blaming. This is different than asking why a woman is staying with a man who hurts her. That is asking for information. Asking why she doesn’t just walk out the door is blaming her and making that decision seem so easy that she only has herself to blame for staying.
I won’t even type out my mental response to that reviewer because I’m trying to keep this blog PG-rated in language, and my response involved the only word that the MPAA will give an R-rating for even absent violence, sex, or adult situations. Oh how I envy those who’ve never experienced abuse and haven’t had a loved one go through it (that they know about). For those who don’t understand, the easiest way can I think of to get them to understand is to imagine being the one in a relationship without income and no way to get a job because you’ll be harmed if you do. Now take your lack is income and go try to find an apartment and hope a manager will just trust you’ll get a job soon. Try to find one while having no current address to put down. No address, no job. Go, find a place to live. That is literally what women in abusive relationships without resources of their own are told to do. Juliette not doing this makes her not believable as a character, and her abuse is her fault for not walking out.
I don’t know what to do about that Twilight Effect. It’s become the archetype against which all other romances and romance-types are being compared. I suppose all that can be done is to hope that readers won’t care that a male protag is “like Edward” for having an interest in a woman.
As far as the second, in addition to wanting to smack people like that reviewer with a rolled up copy of my manuscript and hope some good sense seeps of its pages and into the reviewers’ brains, what we can do is to keep pushing forward. No one who doesn’t already blame women will start, but those who do may come to understand. I’ve had one pan contact me and tell me he finally understood after just one chapter. Those of us trying to combat the victim-blaming and who fight for empowerment of oppressed woman will slowly chisel away at the boulders in our way. It’s hard and slow work, but we’re working toward a good cause.