For those of you who read urban fantasy and are familiar with the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (re-christened the Sookie Stackhouse novels after the cinematic abortion that is True Blood went on air), if you haven;t read book 13, Dead Ever After, quit reading now. This post has more spoilers that Fast and Furious 6.

There is an eternal struggle between writers and readers, and it is indeed confusing. First off, every writer began as a reader and is still a fervent reader. Secondly, if there  were no readers, there would be no stories. So we are as one, but every now and again something cleaves the literary world in half and you have to choose a side. Enter Dead Ever After, stage left.

The problem is, in short, readers fucking hate this book, and writers are coming out of the woodwork to defend Ms. Harris. Well...I'm stuck with this whole wheat and frosted side and I can't pick if i love it or hate it. But the case of DEA is a good one for both writers and readers to learn from.

Let's back up. You probably already know, but for those of you who don't read this series and like spoilers, here's a summary of pertinent facts: 13 books all taking place over the course of 2 years max in the world of small town Bon Temps, LA. The protagonist as a 27 year old blond, bosomy, telepathic waitress with amazing reasoning skills for a glorified bimbo. One night she meets a vampire with a big nose and rude manners, Bill, they do the nasty and start dating. Through him she meets his boss Eric, the giant viking long-blond haired God of a man (and complete asshole), Eric's progeny Pam (a soccer-mom looking vamp), vampire Elvis (no shit), werewolf Alcide (who's just yummy...only decent casting in all of True Blood), the weretiger Quinn (who's purpose in the arc I never figured out) and a whole host of others.

Over the course of books Sookie discovers she's part fairy, her boss and best friend Sam is a shapeshifter, and she becomes a serial killer. No, seriously, she's a fucking serial killer, but don't worry, it's all in self-defense, well, mostly, so it's fine. Sookie dates Bill for 3 books, fucks Eric in one, tries dating Alcide, Sam (her boss) and Quinn, and then dates Eric for a while. But through her entire relationship with Eric she whines about everything but the sex.

So what happened in the last book that has writers and readers snarling at each other? Once again, let's start with the small mistakes Ms. Harris made back at the beginning, that are now affecting her:

  1. By having a strong romantic plot that ended with 2 characters together in the first novel, most of the readers assumed it was a romance series. Apparently nobody looked at the spine and saw "ACE Fantasy" stamped there.
  2. Ms. Harris overestimated the reasoning of the readers. Sorry, it's true. The dialogue between Sookie and Sam clearly shows in all books Samm is hopelessly in love with her, and Sookie is too stupid to realize she's in love with him too. So when she ends up with him at the end of book 13, mot people had an aneurysm. 
  3. Ms. Harris  forgot in the books 9-12 that she was writing mysteries, so her signature MacGuffins are missing. So when she brought them back big-time in book 13, it puzzled the plebians.
  4. Ms. Harris wrote in a very limiting style of narration: first person. A good rule of thumb is for first person, don't have more than 2 minor or 1 major MacGuffin or your work will be too damn long. Facing this problem in book 13, Ms. Harris suddenly broke out passages of third-person narration that once again stupefied the masses.

As a writer, what can you learn? In short, when you write a series, finish the first book and then immediate sit down and write summaries for the rest. Then write the outlines. Plot the hell out of that shit. It took Ms. Harris 14 years to write all these books which meant she had time to mature and grow, but the readers didn't expect that...they saw just the 2 years of Sookie's world. In short, your style will change over a period of ten years or more, greatly, but to a reader they will see it as the length of time in your works.

Now, I try to see all sides  in an argument but I must confess I come down on the writers' side. In my opinion, the number one reason for all the complaints of DEA are this: the readers built up such a strong fantasy world they were disappointed with how it turned out. They wanted Sookie to end with Eric and because they viewed it as a romance, the love interest was paramount. Of course, Sookie ends up with Sam...and why do we care? Blonde bimbo ends up with strawberry-blonde mimbo. He'd made  her a business  partner, it was inevitable.

They hate that the series has ended, and so now they want to bitch about the problems to keep the discussion going, keep the characters alive in their minds. No writing is perfect and there will always be small mistakes. A character's gait will change from one book to the next because authors can't keep track of it all. We try, but it's hard, really fucking hard. If you forget to write a detail of your character on a character bio, you will forget it.

Some fault also lies greatly on this: romance novels are pulp novels. There is nothing wrong with that. I write the bloody things, so don't think I'm looking down on them. But you read them to escape, not to learn. As such, romance readers are passive readers, meaning criticial thinking is not often engaged while reading. The problem is that these books are not romances, they are mysteries, which do require critical thinking. So people miss things, and here are the worst misunderstandings.

  1. Readers though vampire Eric would be a romance novel Viking. Problem is two-fold: 1) vikings in romance novels bear no resemblance to actual raping/pillaging marauders and 2) Eric is not a romance hero; he's a cold, calculating, manipulate psychopath who just happens to fabulous at s ex. Most psychos are.
  2. Just because Sookie is too stupid to see the clues Sam loves her gives no excuse for the reader to miss it. Again, in a mystery you can subtly hint at things, but in a romance you must spell it out. 
  3. Sookie, not being a romance heroine, doesn't have to have a happily-ever-after. readers assume because she ends up with Sam this will be forever. The final lines of the book shows us even Sookie doubts that possibility.
  4. A character's gait (in this case Sookie's godafther) can be described as soundlessly gliding in one passage and clomping in the next. In DEA he glides soundlessly when tracking and clomps when tired and defeated. Gee..how reasonable.
  5. Crazy people do things for crazy reasons. The final villain, Claude the Fairy, tells Sookie he's trying to kill her because she wouldn't sleep with him, yet he's gay. Know why that makes sense? HE'S FUCKING INSANE.
  6. In a mystery you don't need to remind people of how the laws of the world change at every subsequent instance post change. Case in point: Niall, Sookie's grandfather, told her once he sealed off fairy anyone outside of it would become human. Claude escaped, got outside of it, and ergo was human, not fey. So of course he could be killed by a bullet, bullets kill humans all the friggin' time.

If you look on Goodreads or Amazon.com you will see these complaints. And it enrages me as an author and as a reader. frankly, these are coming from people expecting a passive, formulaic romance series, and never bothered to put on their thinking caps for the mysteries. Seriously, they make romance readers look retarded, which is the furthest thing from the truth. Again, most of this whining and refusing to understand the reasoning comes from an infantile urge to refuse to let the characters go. The more we bitch about them, the more we hold onto them. LET THEM GO!

That being said, yes there are problems here. Ms. Harris should have stopped the MacGuffin of Amelia's dad (her witch friend's father sells his soul to a devil) which would have given enough room for the actual mystery of the two strange men who kill Arlene (the entire plot is why they do it) without resorting to random third-person narrative. It could have all been handled with first-person.

Also, Ms. Harris should have strengthened the mysteries of the last four books (and made the Kym Rowe one more interesting...in book 12 it was the boring plot that was simply a device for Soookie to use he one magic fairy wish to bring Sam back to life when he was killed. And if reading that you couldn't figure out they would end up together you might need your head examined). If those books hadn't been so weak, the fast-paced mystery plot would have been easier for readers to digest.

Lastly, somewhere in the series, ms. Harris could have helped remind readers that this is not a romance series by having just one fucking book in which Sookie does not laboriously obsess over her relationship statues. Even bimbos have moments of clarity.

That being said, please take this away with you: when you read, read critically, read actively. And try to be mature, let character live on in your own imagination, don't fight against their endings like a kid terrified of his first day of kindergarten. When you write, remember you're being judged all the time, and the best way to offest this is with two things: forethought/planning, and editing. It takes a year on average to w rite a book, so 13 years to write 13 in a series, but most readers  will reread them back-to-back before the last one and judge you as  if it was one solid world. Planning in advance and editing like mad will keep it even in tone.

No matter which side you're on, take a deep breath. It's just a book. This is not life or death. Of course, this wont be true when Stephen King writes his sequel to The Shining, because he owes me after that goddamn dragon.