Monday, October 03, 2005

Still Life with Hate Mail

Another busy weekend. I dropped into the Great Lakes Booksellers Association convention, and had a chance to meet some wonderful book folks, and then dropped in the Joliet Authorfest, and got to meet more wonderful book folks. For more about Joliet, visit author Randy Richardson's blog. Randy's first novel, LOST IN THE IVY (a murder mystery centering around Wrigley Field) just came out.

While at GLBA, I mentioned to some Hyperion folks that I saw WHISKEY SOUR remaindered, and if it would be possible to purchase copies. I was told that WHISKEY has not been remaindered yet. Instead, 499 copies have been sold at a discount because they were slightly damaged, had torn covers, etc.

So I'm still full price, baby!

On another note, I received my very first Hate Email today. It needs a little set up.

I wrote a Harry McGlade short story called WHELP WANTED, in which Jack's obnoxious ex-partner must track down a stolen Sharpei. Harry, being an idiot, finds a Collie instead, and tries to pass it off as the Sharpei. It doesn't work, and Harry eventually stumbles across the right dog and unites it with its owner.

This is broad comedy, about as subtle as sitting on a hot stove. You can download a free pdf file by going HERE.

Here's how the story ends:

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There was more playful wrestling, and he actually kissed his dog on the mouth.

“Kind of unsanitary, isn’t it?” I said.

“Are you kidding? A dog’s saliva is full of antiseptic properties.”

“I was speaking for the dog.”

Thorpe laughed. “Friendship transcends species, Mr. McGlade. Speaking of which, where’s that Collie you found?"

"It's back at my apartment."

"See? You’ve made a new friend, yourself."

"Nope. I’ve got a six o’clock appointment at the animal shelter. I’m getting him gassed."

Thorpe shot me surprised look.

"Mr. McGlade! After this whole ordeal, don’t you see what amazing companions canines are? A dog can enrich your life! All you have to do is give him a chance."

I mulled it over. How bad could it be, having a friend who never borrowed money, stole your girl, or talked behind your back?

"You know what, Mr. Thorpe? I may just give it a shot."

When I got home a few hours later, I discovered my new best friend had chewed the padding off of my leather couch.

I made it to the shelter an hour before my scheduled appointment.






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Now whether you found that final line amusing or not, I'm guessing you still recognized it as a joke. It had the set-up. It had the defying of reader expectation. It had the absurd image. It had the familiarity.

In short, it was recognizable as comedy.

This is the letter I received:

I just finished listening to your short story that was included on the Bloody Mary CD I purchased and am appalled by the ending. I work for a non profit no kill dog rescue - how could you write something like that. It's ideas like that - that give others the idea it's OKAY to just dump a dog off. Do some research before you write something as awful as that we have had more than 100 golden retrievers come through our organization in the past year maybe those people read your book and thought that it was okay to just dump and dog and never try to work with it. I will NEVER read or purchase another one of your books. I usually give my Books on CD to our local library this one goes in the trash.

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My initial reaction was disbelief. It's well known in the mystery/thriller community that you don't kill animals, because a certain segment of the popululation hates that. Which is fine with me. I've got two dogs (that I rescued from shelters) and while I try not to censor myself while I write, I can understand why hurting animals in stories is distasteful.

But apparently you also can't joke about killing animals. WHELP WANTED has zero violence. It's a parody of the private eye genre. And not only were no animals harmed in the writing of the story, no animals were actually harmed IN the story---it was just alluded to, as a joke.

I was halfway into an apologetic letter, when I realized that I wasn't sorry at all. That's how WHELP WANTED should have ended. It was a story about AKC show dog owners, and how obsessed they are with their pets. After 4000 words of describing people loving dogs, I wanted it to end on that sarcastic note---a complete about-face---which shows Harry for the jerk he is.

So instead of apologizing, I sent this email:

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I'm posting your letter anonymously on my blog. Is there a rescue shelter website you'd like me to add that my readers can visit?

Harry McGlade, the protagonist of that story, is an obnoxious idiot. Surely you must have picked that up, listening to the whole story. No one would ever imitate Harry, nor would any stupid thing he did give anyone ideas.

Would you feel better knowing that after Harry's dog was euthanized, he ate it so nothing went to waste?

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For those of you who would like to know more about helping animals, go to www.petfinder.com, www.animalshelter.org, and www.aspca.org. There are a lot of loving, wonderful pets out there that need a home, so next time you're thinking of adopting, go to a shelter.

Also, pound for pound, dogs have more protein and half the fat of beef.

16 comments:

Heather Brewer said...

"Would you feel better knowing that after Harry's dog was euthanized, he ate it so nothing went to waste?"

LMAO! Joe, you're a card. ;)

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Joe, you can't mess with dogs or cats. Goldfish, maybe. Stephen King apparently got similar complaints when a character in one of his books kicked a dog, or some such thing. His response was: it's fiction, no real dogs involved, so get a grip. Interesting that lots of people get killed in books, which is OK, but touch man's best friend and you're in major trouble.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

There's this weird thing about animals. I remember as a kid watching a movie where all kinds of people were getting killed by a grizzly and it did nothing to me. Then some kid's pet donkey gets killed by the bear and I went to pieces. Go figure.

Mark Terry said...

Ah Joe, you had to do it, didn't you? Whatever. Michael Moore received all sorts of criticism for "Roger and Me" because he focused on a woman who had taken to raising rabbits and selling them for food or pets. He got a lot of flak about the part where she butchers a rabbit. But, as he added, nobody commented about the scene where a dead guy is hauled out of a house on a stretcher.

And actually, I can kind of see Harry still having the dog around, pissing on his shoes.

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

Best,
Mark Terry

Jim Winter said...

Actually, the scathing email works better if you picture Graham Chapman or John Cleese reading it as one of the protest letters they used to have between skits on MONTY PYTHON.

"I'd like to protest this blog post as my father ate dogs his entire life and died of severe cornary artery blockage. Furthermore, it's a well-known fact that cats are more nutritious and are a higher source of protein."

"I'd like to protest the previous letter as the viewer clearly thinks it's funny to make jokes about eating cats. This is not at all humorous and only promotes cruelty to animals. Small children, on the other hand, go great with grilled onions and soy sauce."

Bob Tipton said...

Are you sure you're not pulling our leg? I find this story incredible - really, this was your FIRST hate mail? Haven't they been paying attention? :)

JA Konrath said...

"...really, this was your FIRST hate mail?"

I don't count the stuff my mom sends me.

Diana Cacy said...

I worked as President and runner of a no-kill animal shelter for three years, so I understand the horrors that this person saw that made him or her so emotional.

Saying that, I also think this is a sign of how well you did with the story. The ending affected someone instead of just ending.

I find what the character did irresponsible and disgusting - and that's the way it should be. I do not see this as a bright sign telling me to go out and put all animals to sleep or abandon them at the local shelter.

Of course, in my writing I've been depicting some 'distasteful' actions of my own characters. I can imagine the hate mail I could get with those!

I say "Good job!"

And I wouldn't hold it against you if you had something bad happen to Harry in a following story for being such a jerk. *grin*

Stacey Cochran said...

I served on a panel at Bouchercon titled "Pet Peeves: Animals in Crime Fiction" in part because I've written a suspense-thriller about a mountain lion who starts attacking people on a Tucson, Arizona golf course that borders protected National Forest Land.

It was really neat to hear some of the comments from the audience, as well as the other panelists, on how animals are portrayed in fiction.

Cujo, Jaws, hell even the squid in Sphere.... they're all monsters.

So, which animals are okay to portray as potentially dangerous, and which ones are not?

Is it just a matter of judgement?

Russel said...

"So, which animals are okay to portray as potentially dangerous, and which ones are not?"

Ahhhh... but in those books the violence is committed primarily against humans. The fuzzy-wuzzy animal-lovers don't have a problem with *that* (and can then say that the violence perpretated against the animal by the end of the book was done in self-defence).

Reverse it so that a human is hurting a whole lotta animals and then the writer is the beast for his cruelty, no matter the point of the book (say, that the person hurting the animals is an evil person). Personally I would be delighted if my writing annoyed these kinds of people.

One of the funniest things I read in years was in a Chris Brookmyre novel (I think it was A Big Boy Did it And Ran Away) where a budgie gets shot by a rather big gun. The humour was obvious and the intent clearly wasn't cruel and yet I imagine the kind of people who complain about these things have had a sense of humour as well as a contextual lobotamy.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

I imagine it would be better to talk about eating babies than it would to talk about eating doggies or lil' kitties...After all, cuddly animals have the ASPCA. Cuddly kids - they're on their own.

JD Rhoades said...

JMH: To be fair, the Stephen King character didn't just "kick a dog." He kicked it to death while it groveled for mercy. It was a very disturbing scene. Also very effective. And the character in question was, after all, the Devil, or as close to it as makes no difference.

JW: Thanks for the Monty Python voice suggestion. I just woke up my own dog because I was laughing so loud.

JD Rhoades (Mrs).

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey Russel,

You're right. I think a key difference between Cujo, Jaws, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is that the human protagonist isn't abusive; however, they do kill the animals.

And, JD, The example of Stephen King's The Dead Zone is interesting (I think that's the book you meant). Seeing Greg Stillson kick the dog to death is the reader's first introduction to his character, and we're supposed to hate him. He's the villain.

So, is it okay to show your villain, you know, tossing a cat in a sack and throwing it in the river? If it's the villain that does it, is it okay?

Stacey
www.staceycochran.com

JD Rhoades said...

Stacey...you're right. I had thought for a moment that the dog-kickin' sumbitch was Randall Flagg from The Stand, but it was indeed Stillson.

But you do ask the bigger question...if the character is the villain and you're supposed to hate him/her, is it "okay" to see them abusing an animal?

My gut feeling...it's a quick n' easy way to establish that your villain isn't just evil, but EEEEEVIL. But you've got to be careful to make sure it's not a lazy shortcut.

Joe's set himself an interesting challenge: his protagonist is a horrible toad of a man. It's a short story, though, so shortcuts are allowed. As are characters who are horrible toads.

JA Konrath said...

This thread reminds my of something I wrote a while back.

Someone asked if I knew of any children's books that dealt with the death of a pet. I managed to compile a short list:


IT'S EUTHANASIA, CHARLIE BROWN! by Charles M. Schultz

RIBSY AND THE DRUNK DRIVER by Beverly Cleary

GARFIELD'S MYOCARDIAL INFARCTION by Jim Davis

THE CAT IN THE HAT GETS CANCER by Dr. Seuss

CUDDLES DIED BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T LOVE HER ENOUGH by Judy Blume

FUN FACTS ABOUT DECOMPOSITION by Dr. Phil

WHERE'S WALDO'S DOG? by Martin Handford

THE BLACK STALLION: FATAL MALNOURISHMENT! by Walter Farley

ONE FISH, TWO FISH, DEAD FISH, YOUR FAULT by Dr. Seuss

WHERE THE BREATHING ENDS by Shel Silverstein

SEE SPOT DIE (or DICK AND JANE DIG A GRAVE) by Unknown

PARVO THE PUPPY: A MATTER OF TIME by Ken L. Coff

YOU SAID KITTY WAS IN HEAVEN AND I FOUND HER IN THE TRASH by Erma Bombeck

POLLY WANT A EULOGY?

ALL DOGS TASTE LIKE CHICKEN a Walt Disney Reader

EVERYTHING DIES, INCLUDING DADDY, MOMMY, AND YOU by Steve from Blue's Clues

WHY WON'T WAGS WAKE UP?

A.S.P.C.D.O.A.

Anonymous said...

As a former dog rescuer, I can see both points. The fact that people do just dump their dogs like they dump unwanted furniture is a real problem. Unfortunately, some people only selectively see fiction as fiction. To them, showing a guy killing doesn't mean the author condones the act, but showing someone dumping their pet at a shelter does. The problem lies not with your fiction, but with the hypersensitivity of those who have to deal with the results of real-life animal abuse and neglect. Write on!