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Weekly Wrap: Our Controversies.

By Posted on 16 5 m read 886 views

Sorry my blog was late today. Mr. Henderson had a quickie surgery yesterday and is now medicated and woozy and he’ll be just fine. Also, the ice storm here in NY threw my schedule off because the school’s were delayed, and I was busy transitioning to a new computer and having Thai food with a friend.

Interesting news continues but it looks like I’m going to have to wait another week to spill.

Sorry no pictures today!


Okay, guys, you really surprised me this week. I’ve gotten to know your beautiful hearts and the bruised spots and your fiesty sides. But the places you went with the Question of the Week . . . wow. And to think I almost changed that question at the last minute because I thought it would be too hard to answer and would leave too many people out.


Many of you published stories or displayed your artwork only to be attacked with nasty reviews. Simon Haynes, Robin Slick, Ronlyn Domingue, mattilda, amy, Anneliese, Shelley Marlow, teresa, and Kevin Noel Olson have taken heat for writing about immoral characters and characters making bad choices or implausable choices, and characters doing things readers wouldn’t do. And quite often, reviewers confuse the author with the characters they write about.

Aimee stirred up some right-wing reactions from this McSweeney’s interview. Bernita discovered that something as simple as a character’s choice of swear words can spark a controversy. And others found you can get a mailbox full of hate mail for your feelings about Mexican food (Mark Bastable), Kentucky (Jim), law enforcement and big media (n.l. belardes).

Who are all of these haters and these anonymous Amazon reviewers? If it’s any of you who read LitPark, please quit it, already.

Of course, the hate mail that hurts most comes from those we know. kimberly, Tish Cohen, and Juliet have found out the hard way what happens when friends or family recognize themselves (or believe they recognize themselves) in our stories and are not happy with how they’re portrayed. As painful as this is, it seems to hurt more to put a muzzle on our truths and the ways we need to tell our stories. This is probably the most inevitable cross we bear, eh? Bare? (See! All of you who complain about my no-edit button – I can’t spell either!)


Many of you reminded us that controversy is a sign that you’ve stirred emotions, that you’ve challenged ways of thinking, that you’ve shown something that people have not let themselves see. This is all in the tradition of good literature. kimberly says, “controversy is at the heart and soul of drama (aka human existence) and how placid and dull the world would be without it, eh? It feels a little tougher when it’s controversial on this small, intimate level…” dennis mahagin reminds us that the best kind of controversy is not self-serving or generated from publicity stunts but comes from the hard truths of the text.

A number of you mentioned going with indie publishing houses because they’re less likely to tone down what you want to say or how you want to say it. Paul A. Toth had this to say on the subject:

While I can certainly understand being misunderstood (nothing is more debasing than getting a bad review from Publishers Weekly, then noticing that just below it lies a glowing review of a freaking Star Wars novelization), I have to agree the lit world could use some controversy. By that, I don’t mean the veracity of memoirs or accusations of plagiarism.

To me, the biggest controversy in publishing ought to be why no one can figure out how to sell novels in this country, rather than screenplays disguised as novels. Hint: It isn’t the sole strategy of readings to which travel is paid for by”¦the author. Until that problem is solved, even negative controversies are probably the best promotion we can expect.


Think hate mail is where our troubles end? Some of you have found writing can get you into a legal mess: Bruce Hoppe received a subpoena to reveal his sources in a newspaper article, Greg was threatened with lawsuits for printing things about people they didn’t want others to know, and Richard got himself into hot water with the Florida State Senate and a university president simply by sending out a survey on love.

Lise Winne started an interesting topic in the controversy Question of the Week comment thread, so if you want to share your thoughts on the government subpoenaing (boy, that word looks wrong) jounalists to cough up their confidential sources and notes, feel free to keep that conversation going.


Sometimes the shock is simply in how your head and heart are perceived when you toss them out there to the public. My wondertwin Lance Reynald has the same issue I was going to mention – what I think is normal, heartwarming or funny is often perceived in the opposite. And Aurelio finds he’s more likely to get called “weird” than controversial. Others for whom controversy is merely a Prince song: mikel k poet, Gail Siegel, Noria, Terry.

I’m going to end with Ric Marion‘s story. He found himself in a pair of Garrison Keillor shoes – a progressive and die hard liberal writing a folksy column that appeals to conservatives. When he realized that his conservative readers assumed he shared their views, he was dying to write just one column to express his beliefs. Ric says the best advice he ever got was when his editor refused his request, saying, “Let them think what they want – and if they call you, try to persuade them to your side.”

Okay, thanks to all of you for your stories and for being patient with me today. And thank you to Lauren Baratz-Logsted, who is not only a wonderful and so-prolific-we’re-all-green author, but she’s also fun and bold and big-hearted, and she kicked off one terrific discussion!


Okay, I need to run to the post office real quick to send something on to Warner Brothers. (Woops. Did I just let something slip?)

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  • n.l. belardes
    February 17, 2007

    Controversy. Indie Press controversy vs. Contemporary and Self-publishing… that’s going to be my next phat topic on the Noveltown blog…

    Oh, and I’ve been prolific with my Pipehead cartoons again… the latest you have to know is me thumbing my nose at the Bakersfield D.A. heh…

    Great article, Susan! Bye all…!


  • Daryl
    February 17, 2007

    Wow! The main problem I deal with (in my own head) is whether it is ok for my characters to use curse words (because I rarely use them myself). Here is my point, I’m more afraid to say aloud to myself (through my writing) what I think is dark and disturbing than I am worried about what anyone I know could or would ever think about it. I’ve been so ostracized already from people that I’ve considered “old friends” that when the opportunity comes for them to say “was that me in your story?” I really won’t care anymore.

  • amy
    February 17, 2007

    WB? Susan, I’m intrigued…

  • Robin Slick
    February 17, 2007

    Hey, I hope Mr. Henderson is feeling better today.

    Thanks for a very interesting week (again!) on Lit Park, and oh man, you and your secrets! Warner Brothers? You let that slip out but you give no details? Arghhhh….

  • James Bernard Frost
    February 17, 2007

    I just discovered LitPark. I wish I had found you earlier, not only would I have been able to add to the controversy thread, but I have terribly funny hair.

    My publisher put a cover on my book that I hated, so I hired a sticker artist to make me a new one, which I’m handing out at readings. Galley Cat did a piece on it.

  • Robin Slick
    February 17, 2007

    The hell with your hair, James — that sticker stuff is fascinating. Hmm…I’m not (that) psychic, but I see a Susan Henderson interview in your future.

  • Aurelio
    February 17, 2007

    Wow, James. That cover they came up with for your book really does blow chunks (and unfortunately looks just like a zillion other covers on the scifi rack), – but your replacement cover sticker rocks! What a brilliant solution too!

    I am very impressed! Glad you shared.

  • Susan Henderson
    February 17, 2007

    n.l. – We’ll have to link our blogs next week because it’s going to be all indie talk over here, too.

    Daryl – You might hate being called cute, but that’s the cutest post.

    amy – I can’t tell. I’ve probably jinxed things already.

    Robin – Percocet and a laptop and a little bell to ring when he needs things. I think he’s enjoying himself.

    James – You’re going to make a lot of friends around here. It takes real guts to stand up for artistic integrity against the big guns. The sticker idea is awesome!

    Aurelio – I love hearing you say, “blow chunks.”

  • LaurenBaratz-Logsted
    February 18, 2007

    Susan: 1) I hope Mr. Henderson – he of the fantabulous taste – is recovering nicely; 2) I can’t wait to hear more about the WB but know I will in good time; 3) a blanket thank-you for all your kind words – you deserve every good thing and I’m happy to do my small part to see that you get it.

  • Lance Reynald
    February 18, 2007

    a few things…
    wondertwin, I think we’re both terribly funny…in the best way! and, a drugged husband is an opportunity (anything you’ve been dying to buy?)

    and, to all my LitPark pals and their scandals; I am so very proud of each and every one of you!!!

    see ya’ll next week, I’m going scarce for a while…I’m running the home-stretch, and Henderson is gonna kill me if she doesn’t see something soon.

    xoxo- LR

  • James Bernard Frost
    February 18, 2007

    I’m not sure if it’s guts or naivete. Living out in Oregon you kind of lose touch with how ego-driven the publishing world is. Relations with my publicist got frosty when that Galley Cat article hit, and that has nothing to do with my last name…

  • James Bernard Frost
    February 18, 2007

    And Aurelio–

    I wish I had used those exact words when I first saw the cover. I thought “I hate it” would have gotten the point across. But blow chunks is far better…

  • Susan Henderson
    February 20, 2007

    Lauren – Likewise, in the biggest way. You deserve all the good that comes your way.

    Lance – I can’t wait to see that manuscript. And if you want me to announce anything here, just let me know. I’m thinking about you.

    James – Maybe it is naivete. And maybe writers should work harder not to lose that quality because it allowed us to speak our minds and to believe we were a part of the creative process. I’m so impressed with what you’ve done – also, it’s funny and spunky.

  • Anneliese
    February 20, 2007

    I love to write reviews on Amazon – but I only do so for books that have hardly any reviews and I only write positive reviews.

    The times I’ve flaunted my negative feelings over the internets, were the times that last forever, and ever, and ever. Better to have only the positive in print.

  • Susan Henderson
    February 21, 2007

    Anneliese – Me, too! Fighting is one of those things I’ve learned is the most intimate of acts and I’ll only go there with people I trust completely. Also, no need to put certain things on record, especially if you’re a spontaneous and scrappy fighter like I am.

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