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Letting Go: Coping with the Reader’s Experience

Nearly three years after first being published, and having published three books, I think the biggest lesson I learned—and perhaps the hardest to learn—was the fact that as a writer you don’t own the reader’s experience. Each reader experiences the book differently; they are free to interpret it how they want relative to their own experiences. Some will love it, so will hate it, others will have a reaction of “meh.”

I read most reviews, and I admit I take them to heart. I won’t say they influence my future writing, but I do read them, mostly because I’m interested in what readers think of my work. Once in awhile, I’ll read a review and realize the reader really got my story. That happened the other day. I got a Goggle Alert for What Binds Us, my first book. It was a review by someone named Richard Green on a site I was unfamiliar with. (I should point out it appears to be a pirate site of some kind, offering PDFs of books, immorally if not illegally; but that is a whole other post....) Anyway as I was saying, this guy really seemed to get the book. His review in part is below:

What Binds Us is more a gay historical drama than an m/m romance. There is a certain degree of romance but it isn't what drives the narrative. At least it didn't feel like that to me. So, to that extend, the blurb isn't very indicative of the plot.

This is essentially Dondi's story as told by his ex-lover and best friend Thomas-Edward. I dare say it's the story as Thomas
it. The first person POV adds to that effect.

The book is divided into three parts: Sunrise, Eclipse, and Sunset and, as early as in the Prologue, we learn that this is a collection of
"Memories of a love lost and a love found. Memories of a life shared and a life lost" and that there's tragedy ahead: "I must write it all down—quickly, before it leaves me. Like he did. Gone too soon."

So. It's the late seventies, and the two meet in college (they're roommates), Thomas a quiet middle class black guy from New Jersey, Dondi a loud and theatrical bon viveur, who uses his wealth to enjoy life to the fullest. Here's Thomas' first impression of Dondi:
"He seemed about my age, but while I felt barely begun, he seemed complete, an epilogue to a fantastic story."

So I was really intrigued by his review and yes, giddy with excitement. Then he wrote: 

Gustave Doré's (1832-1883)
illustration for Dante's Divine Comedy
Dondi shows Thomas how life should be lived, clubbing, shopping, drinking, smoking pot.
"Dondi became my guide, my Virgil, on my personal odyssey of self-discovery.
(It was Homer, by the way; the one who wrote the Odyssey. Virgil wrote the Aeneid.)
What? Wait a minute. Hold up! He is the second reviewer to make this mistake!

Homer did, indeed, write the Odyssey, and Virgil wrote the Aeneid. I know that. I read both. In Latin. In the sentence he quotes, I was referring to the Inferno by Dante, which I’ve read three times, in translation, in which, Dante, lost in Hell, is guided by the Roman poet, Virgil, through the nine circles.  It is I’ve been told an obscure reference so I’ll have to cut him some slack, but still it rankles. Did these reviewers really think I’d confused the two? Did they think my editor and copy editors were also confused about who wrote what?

But as I say, the reader owns his/her experience and I have learned to accept that.

The rest of the review appears below—mostly because he quotes some of my favorite lines from What Binds Us. Unfortunately the review ends abruptly—it appears he ran out of space—which is unfortunate because I thought it was a well-written review and I really wanted to learn what his conclusion was.

At a certain point they become lovers, Thomas having almost instantly fallen in love with Dondi. But it doesn't last, because Dondi doesn't believe in love, he isn't the "forever-and-always, you-for-me and me-for-you-only" kind of guy. They remain roommates though and their relationship keeps evolving. Dondi keeps falling in love (his version of it, anyway) moving from one guy to the other, from an unnamed lad with sun-bleached hair to the son of his Latin professor to the next random guy in the endless line of his conquests. But Thomas remains the person Dondi considers his only true friend, the only constant in his extravagant lifestyle.

Then Dondi asks Thomas to spend the summer with him and his family at their summer house in Long Island and Thomas meets Matthew, Dondi's younger brother. They first become inseparable, and then they fall madly in love. And they're the real thing.
If Dondi was an epilogue, Matthew was a prologue, a promise waiting to be kept. He seemed about to begin. He seemed to be waiting for something. I asked him once, years later, what he’d been waiting for. He surprised me by answering simply, “You.” and "Matthew was like the afterimage from staring at the sun too long. If Dondi was the sun, Matthew was cool water or the dark side of the moon." Thomas and Matthew remain together and, over the years, the reader sees how their lives span around Dondi.

Learn more about What Binds Us here. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.


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