The Surprising Opinions of Readers

deer-1243971-mI’ll admit it. I’ve got a “problem child” book to my credit. Maybe you have one, too. Or you’ve read one. You know the type I’m talking about, the kind of book that people either love or hate, the kind that readers always, always have a strong opinion about. These books never suffer from ambivalence. For me, that book is Season of Lies.

Here’s the synopsis:

Robin Calloway has always been “special”–a misfit who lives more in her own head than the real world. Some, including her father, even think she’s crazy. So when her brother is found murdered, Robin’s father suspects her of the crime and sends her to a mental institution for observation. With the help of Dr. G, Robin begins to untangle memories of the killing, but admits a terrible truth about herself in the process: she can both hear and speak to animals, and this cursed ability forces her to “sleepwalk”–or blank out–for most of her day.
Fearing both the local sheriff and the label of “schizophrenic,” Robin escapes the hospital and flees into the Texas Hill Country. To survive hunting season in the woods, however, she must accept her unique senses and gain the help of a whitetail deer herd. But Robin soon finds herself in the path of a killer desperate to hide the truth.

I wrote Season of Lies years ago during NaNoWriMo. Needless to say, Season was a hot mess of a manuscript. I  went on to workshop it, changing the POV, the voice, the plot, and, well, just about everything . I think a few of my friends questioned my sanity for writing it. Why? Because it’s a YA/Crossover thriller that includes talking animals. And, for some strange reason, talking animals are okay for younger kids and adults, but NOT okay for teenagers. (I still don’t understand this. If you do, please explain it to me in the comments.)

I sent it to a professional editor who loved it (after I revised it). Then, the book scored me an agent who loved it. Then, it got some serious attention from several editors who either loved the voice but hated the premise or vice versa. Again, no sign of ambivalence. A couple of years later, I self-published it and sent it out to reviewers.

I was convinced that most of them would skewer me for writing about talking animals, but I received some of the most positive, impassioned comments EVER! Like this one:

“I started this book last night right before bedtime. Rather than reading for ten minutes before crashing, I ended up unable to fall asleep until I had finished the book. Season of Lies is a very well written story that is filled with captivating and realistic characters…”

I also received a few negative reviews as well, but most had NOTHING to do with talking animals. Instead, they zeroed in on voice (Southern dialect):

“Phrases such as “that weren’t no better” and “timing was so dad-gummed perfect”, take away from the overall plot of the story, and to be perfectly honest, make it understandable why the author had to be “self-published” instead of picked up by a mainstream publishing house.”

Ouch.

Funny thing is, I was actually okay with that bad review because, if you go on to read the whole thing, the person actually liked the premise of the book. They just didn’t dig the dialect. I get that. And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing. My character lives in the fictitious Texas Hill Country town of Stump, TX, and uses words like “dad-gummed.” And yes, it’s authentic dialogue. I grew up in the Hill Country. 🙂

To this day, Season of Lies still sells even though I published it a year ago, even though I can’t figure out where to categorize the darn thing (YA? Urban Fantasy? Adult Thriller? Psychic & Metaphysical?).

So what do we do with books like this?

If you’re a reader in love with a problem child book, think about selecting it for your book club. Trust me, opinions will fly. You will not run out of things to talk/argue about.

If you’re an author, don’t give up! I’m convinced that niche marketing is the way to go since books like these tend to be “cult hits” and not bestsellers. But keep loving them. One day, the world may understand your problem child as much as you do.

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How about you? Ever read a “problem child” book? Ever written one? I’m gearing up for a “hunting season” promotion and would love to hear your thoughts about books like this!

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