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Separating Fiction from the Author, aka the post where author Carrie Mesrobian explains that fiction is fiction

Yesterday on Twitter, I kind of lost my mind. I do that on Twitter frequently. Sometimes it’s about the problems of women’s fashion. Sometimes it’s about television shows. Sometimes it’s about sex and our cultural insanity surrounding it.

Yesterday it was about reader reactions to fiction and how some readers assume that any sort of fictional representation equals endorsement by the author.

 It was, I admit, a response to reading yet another review where the reader seems to conflate the depiction of any sort of discomforting or unconscionable reality (teenagers using drugs or having sex, use of the word ‘fag,’ discussion of masturbation, parents who turn a blind eye to bad behavior, people who use swear words in daily speech) with author endorsement of such reality.

It kind of drives me nuts. By describing something, I’m endorsing it?

Is the traffic reporter on the radio endorsing gridlock?

What the hell?

(Yes, I endorse swearing. No, I don’t endorse the use of the word ‘fag.’ Yes, I believe in masturbation. )

Is that what people expect writers to do? Explain their personal foibles and opinions and stances on a variety of topics their books may bring up? Just to hit readers with a sledgehammer prior to starting the story so they know WHAT THE AUTHOR THINKS and WHERE SHE STANDS ON THESE TOPICS and THAT SHE UNDERSTANDS THAT SMOKING POT WHILE SWIMMING IS REALLY DANGEROUS and WHAT KIND OF PARENT ARE YOU THAT YOU WOULDN’T PUT A STOP THAT KIND OF THING?

I think some readers really want that. And some of these readers purport to love YA. I don’t understand this reaction. It feels incomplete. Unfinished. A reaction of someone who is fundamentally unclear about the purpose of reading. Reading isn’t about role models or making new friends or making people smile or affirming someone’s view of the world. Though I suppose it could be all of those things, it doesn’t have to. Books don’t OWE you happy endings or good behavior or the portrayal of a rational universe. Books don’t owe you morality. Books don’t owe you SHIT. That’s why you can pick them up as easy as you lay them down.

While I like the people I interact with to be moral, I don’t place such burdens on books. And I don’t know why some readers have this expectation, either.

Would me explicitly assuring readers about my own personal deportment help the discussion of issues I raise in a book Sex & Violence? Would an overt manifesto about my moral and ethical code help people talk about things like drug use and alcohol use in adolescence? Would that help people talk more about sex and sexual identity? Is that where we are now — all readers must know in blatant and obvious and artless terms, where I come down on all the hot-button controversies that make many people’s asses clench in panic?

Would it comfort those readers to know that, no, I don’t say to my kid, “Hey fuckface!  Go brush your goddamn teeth so we can go smoke pot together and then talk about how having meaningless sex when you’re 15 is a great idea!” Would they like to know about all the boring evenings I spend making her do her homework and reading to her and telling her to go to bed 99 million times? Would they like to know what a boring, moral, routine life I lead? Would they like to know every bad choice I’ve ever made and how I amended or rectified those bad choices (or what daily regrets plague me if I haven’t amended or rectified them?)

At the risk of sounding whiny and naïve, I kind of want readers to leave me out of it. Talk about the book. Talk about the morality of the characters. But don’t assume that my characters speech and actions mirror my speech and actions because that is not going to be true 100% of the time.

(Obviously, the swearing thing is true, in my case. I’d say I’m sorry, but my father daily scolds me on this so if it comforts you, please realize I’m getting what’s coming to me for all my ‘cussing, foul-mouthed’ behavior.)

Or maybe you could just let the story do the talking. Or let your own mouth do the talking. Or let the kids who come to the library looking for books do the talking. I’ve already gone on for 300 pages. I kind of want to be done talking. Let the book be the beginning of the conversation. Don’t end it before it starts by judging the behavior of the fake people within or assuming things about the creator of those fake people, either.

Fiction is about problems. It’s not about good decision-making. It’s about conflict and struggle and battle and terrible, terrible decisions. Sometimes people make good decisions in fiction, but there’s no requirement that they always will. You want to read about people making good decisions, you’ve got two choices:

– read a health textbook

– read a pamphlet in the waiting room of the Guidance Counselor

If you want to understand the complexity of life, read about someone fucking things up.

Better yet, if you want to understand the complexity of life, read about someone fucking things up and then trying to fix them.

Carrie Mesrobian is the author of Sex and Violence, which ended up on many best of the year lists for 2013 for it’s complex look at one young man’s struggles to heal after really screwing things up.


  1. Carrie, we all know you're just upset because Norman Reedus did not appear on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead. We understand. Really we do. 😉


  3. Well stated!

  4. I'm so bookmarking this post so that instead of having this discussion/argument with people about my own writing, I can just direct them here. Well said! : )

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