Owning Mistakes, aka Hindsight, aka Learning

Molly Ringwald has a wonderful article in the New Yorker revisiting her work in John Hughes’s films. She really went the extra mile on this, to the point of interviewing a fellow actress she hadn’t seen in decades. It’s very much worth the read.

I think a lot about the fails from my first book. A LOT.
I love all my books. I’m proud of all my books. I’m super proud of Good Intentions.

And yet… Good Intentions starts with an attempted rape. I had reasons, I thought it made sense, and even now I think it holds up, but damn I wish I’d done something else. I included the explicit labeling of rape in the text because the protagonist wanders into a bizarre and unexpected situation where I wanted no ambiguity about who the bad guys were and what he should do. At the time, I figured the good guys get away okay, the bad guys go up in smoke, and neither of the intended victims are the sort to carry trauma from this, so we move on. But rape is the sort of subject that really shouldn’t be used without it specifically being the subject. I hadn’t really encountered serious discussion of how overused that trope is until it was too late. I could’ve done something else.

One of the first bits of protagonist dialogue involves a white guy dropping a racial slur, and even if it’s in the context of “hey white guys, don’t do this shit” I could’ve just not had that at all. The book involves a spectrum of sympathetic black characters, but the first black characters to appear are gang members. The only Latino characters are part of a drug cartel.

These are all things that are real and happen in real life. They’re also harmful tropes and/or ugly stereotypes. I was new to writing and didn’t think that stuff through quite as far as I wish I had. For all those flaws, it’s a warm and funny story with lots of heart and I got better about those issues real fast… but I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting the book down before finishing it over those sorts of things.

That’s frustrating, because it’s the first of a series. I love my book, my story, my characters, and I want others to love it, too… but there’s always that “but” there because I believe in learning and growing and owning my mistakes. It’s a little tough to know how to hype a book when I also feel like I should somehow tell readers, “BTW, I screwed this up and I know it.” That doesn’t exactly fit well into a pitch. No one has ever called me out on any of these things, so I’m not writing this in response to anyone confronting me or anything of the sort, although I am sorry for not seeing those problems and fixing them ahead of time.

Anyway. Read that piece by Molly Ringwald. It’s truly great.

In other news: I plan to share a chapter or two from the next Poor Man’s Fight book on Monday the 9th. Watch this space.

Release date looks increasingly like later in the week of the 16th. Again, the paperback will follow thereafter because my formatting options have changed, and I’m waiting to hear back from Audible about creating an audio version so there’s nothing to tell there just yet.

Also, for anyone in Portland: I’ll be selling books at a table at Wizard World Comic Con April 13-15th! Hope to see you there!

5 thoughts on “Owning Mistakes, aka Hindsight, aka Learning

  1. Dee

    Hello so let me start by saying forgive my grammar and stuff like that so I am a black man one of many and I didn’t find issue with how good intentions went I obviously respect how you feel as it’s your book and even if it wasn’t I would still respect your thoughts it just sucks cause if I’m being honest that line kinda reeled me in it came as such a shock that couldn’t do anything but laugh and then I proceeded to enjoy each and everyone of you characters I feel that the first encounter with the girls holds up just like you said it was a terrible situation that pulled me in further and showed me who Alex was I just hope that when or if you decide to continue the Good Intentions series that you dont change to much I for one will read it regardless however I feel like the world shouldn’t influence your story world to much.

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  2. Mark

    I had to re-read the first part of GI because I couldn’t remember that. At first I was wondering, is gypsey a slur for Roma? Then I read that part and yeah no need for it. The rape though… that’s what spurred Alex into action. Oh and… Kept reading the first couple of chapters… Stephanie is a petite Latina about Alex’s age at the law firm.

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  3. Mark

    I am not saying that you aren’t 100% correct but as a philosophical point aren’t the sections of GI you mention merely relating things that could and do occur yet in life? Do we truly benefit from hiding that such things occur? Is it not better to keep them in front of us and constantly admit that they are abhorrent? The rape scene could be seen as integral to the outrage that Alex felt and was the catalyst to his actions… and thus the story. As to race, well that is sadly still evident in society and while we should not be continuing to uphold stereotypes as a people if we are to reflect a true view of society some of this will seep into the story. I love your books. Yes, you could have done some things differently but not in all cases was it necessary. Keep up the good work!

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  4. Chong Go

    It worked smoothly for me, and I *hate* emotionally manipulative writing. I guess that means it served the story, fit the context, and seemed to flow naturally as part of the story. And I’ve read it three(?) times. It worked and the reader response has been solid, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in over analysing it, or worrying about what the odd reader here and there has said. That way lies paralysis and un-fun writing.
    Honestly, the only real problem Good Intentions had was, urm, the first cover. It showed up in my “also boughts” for a long time, but I dismissed it because of the cover.

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  5. Johnny B. Goode

    If you cut off the wings of an angel and clip the horns of a devil in real life, I would disapprove; but in fiction it’s okay for me.

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