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A Review-ish Rant, aka what happens when an author breaks the...

When You Dare by Lori Foster


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Dear Readers:

As you know, the ‘dear author’ address here is a fiction — a shtick and a distinctive stylistic characteristic of the blog. Before writing this post, I don’t remember ever feeling that I was truly addressing the author in a review. Of course, I don’t remember feeling that the author was intruding so powerfully into my reading experience of a fictional work as I did with Lori Foster’s When You Dare. And frankly, that experience creeped me out too much to use the author’s name in the salutation, even as a fiction.

I purchased When You Dare based on a number of conversations about its possible backstory. Having read a few Foster books in the past, I wasn’t really a fan, but I certainly didn’t hate or feel offended by her books, either. The controversy over her time travel fighter book, My Man Michael, was pretty widespread, though, and then to hear of a book in which the hallowed fourth wall was allegedly not just broken but blasted through at top speed? I was deeply curious. After all, we talk a lot in the blogging community about judging a book on its own terms and maintaining a separation between a book and its author, a separation authors are at least as ideally invested in as readers and reviewers. So would an author – especially one who has gone on record saying that she never takes reviews personally  – really dare to close that gap and break the fourth wall?

If When You Dare constitutes the answer to that question, I read it as a definite HELL YES — KICK THAT SUCKER DOWN!!!

Obligatory Disclaimer: When I refer to the “author,” I’m not referring to the person who goes grocery shopping and takes care of her kids, etc. That is, I don’t mean the person who stands behind the author’s name. I’m referring the disembodied voice of the author, the persona represented by the name printed on the book’s cover. It’s like saying, “Mrs. Fields doesn’t know a cookie from a hubcap.” I’ve never met the real Mrs. Fields, and she’s probably a lovely woman with great taste in cookies, but because her name is associated with her product, I’m invoking it when I discuss her company’s products.

Okay, on to the book. A quick summary:

Dare Macintosh is in Tijuana to rescue his friend’s sister from the “human traffickers” who kidnapped her outside her hotel and held her in a dark and dirty trailer for two days. One of two white women in the trailer, the other was in much worse shape physically – dirty, beaten, emaciated, drugged, dehydrated – which apparently intrigues Dare enough to rescue her, as well (the other four women were “local” and “scattered” when Dare stormed the trailer – more on that later). Alani tells Dare how brave the girl was with her jailers, how she fought back whenever they touched her, and, indeed, when the drugged woman briefly awakes, she manages to kick Dare in the nose before he can tell her he’s one of the good guys.

Molly Alexander is an author of “genre fiction,” which, when she describes it, is pretty easily identifiable as Romantic Suspense. Kidnapped outside her apartment building in southern Ohio, Molly has been held for nine days, during which her kidnappers beat and groped her and threatened her with eventual death. She had no idea why she had been taken, but Dare realizes quickly that she is not out of danger, because they are clearly being followed. So Dare must find a way to keep Molly safe until she is physically recovered enough to return home. However, once they get her home, it becomes clear that Molly is still very much in danger.

Molly’s apartment has been ransacked and a cryptic note has been left in her absence: “Still feel so forgiving?” Molly explains to Dare that after a previous book was published, she got a lot of negative reader feedback over a character she redeemed during the course of the book. One reader sent her many anonymous emails and letters insisting that she would never be as forgiving as the woman in the book. Dare, however, initially suspects Molly’s father, who has withheld his wealth and influence from Molly and her sister, heaping scorn and disapproval on Molly for her career choice. Molly is not close to her stepmother, either (her mom committed suicide), who seems more interested in Molly’s father’s money and power than in anything substantive. The only family member Molly is very close to is her sister, a teacher who is also the heroine of the novella featured in the The Guy Next Door anthology. Which makes the list of kidnapping suspects pretty short, leaving a lot of time for Dare and Molly to get to know each other and fall in love on their way to solving the mystery.

So what was it about this book that made me so mad?

Let me count the ways this book frustrated, insulted, irritated, and concerned me. And be warned: I make no attempt to hide or otherwise soften book spoilers.

1. The martyred Mary Sue heroine

Molly/Mary Sue /Lori, whatever. After a while, I had many names for her. Anyway, Molly seemed a collection of contradictory clichés to me. She enjoys a level of success to the point where she can pay Dare for his private protection services without blinking an eye. She can even afford a posh chartered flight without financial discomfort. Yet she lives in a modest apartment with absolutely no security, and doesn’t seem to have very expensive tastes (although she did buy herself a red Miata in celebration of her last contract). One of her books has been sold to Hollywood, with Ryan Reynolds mentioned as the potential star, and yet no one seems to know or recognize her name. I could never figure out what her status was. If she was rich and successful enough to pay for private protection, chartered flights, sports cars, and the like, her father and step-mother’s status conscious judgments about her occupation made absolutely no sense to me, let alone her seemingly ubiquitous anonymity. But if she was only moderately successful in her profession, how could she afford to pay for all that stuff without breaking a sweat?

Then there is the issue of Molly’s appearance and demeanor following her abduction. She’s convinced she’s “plain,” although it doesn’t take Dare long to notice Molly “had one hell of a rack.” Thank God she hadn’t been starved long enough to deflate those puppies! And fortunately, her “small body” had still preserved the “firm, plump flesh” of her ass, since Dare is definitely a rack and ass man. Because nothing is more appealing than a woman who has been beaten, starved, dehydrated, and drugged for nine days. Although to give Molly credit, from almost the first she declares herself “fine” (which becomes her standard declaration throughout the book) and requires only a meal or two and a few bottles of water to recover substantially from her trauma.

Now I don’t know a lot about starved humans, but shouldn’t it take more than a few pancakes and a quart or so of water to fully revive Molly? Or perhaps it’s the malnutrition that makes Molly think so little about letting her sister know she’s okay or so much about abandoning her whole life in Ohio to relocate to Kentucky to live with Dare, a man she’s known for less than a week and who doesn’t exactly seem like the stealth machine he wants Molly to think he is. I’d say that last decision is a result of PTSD, except Molly doesn’t seem to experience any lingering effects of her trauma. At one point, her stepmother wonders aloud why Molly’s captors didn’t bother to rape her. I don’t think the irony of the question is intended, because the reader knows full well that Molly wasn’t raped so that she could remain uncomplicatedly “untainted” for Dare.

2. A good woman is a small, demure, feminine woman

I do realize that one of the difficulties in books like this is that the heroine needs to be traumatized enough for the hero and the reader to actively desire her protection but not so traumatized that she can’t be primed for mid-book boinking, since imminent danger and a surplus of testosterone necessitate lots and lots of on the run sex. But things don’t stop there. Molly is one of those heroines who has had nothing but awful relationships with terrible men who could not see her inner value and outer beauty. Dare not only sees that value, but he sees it in a nice, small but lush feminine package. At one point he even notices Molly’s hands, observing that “[s]he had feminine hands, despite the short nails.” I’m not sure when short nails became a masculine trait, but the book is full of moments that like, little reminders of how sweet and demure and feminine and fine Molly is, which is pretty ironic, given the explicit critique of her father and stepmother’s investment in precisely that combination of superficial characteristics.

3. Race, culture, language, and casual vigilante violence alerts

Very soon after starting this book I was complaining on Twitter about the identification of Americans by their supposed lack of accent. I don’t really need to explain why this annoyed me, right? Good. Then there is Dare’s comment that in addition to Alani and Molly he notes the remaining “four [captive women] . . . were apparently local, because as soon as I freed them and told them it was clear, they took off.” And how did he identify them as local? Well, it could have been the fact that they had accents. Later, though, the whole trailer incident was described as “white slavery,” and Dare initially identifies Molly as different from the other women, because “she didn’t look foreign.” The captors speak mostly Spanish, so I think we’re supposed to assume they are not American, setting up the standard American = good: foreign (and especially brown) = bad. Which may account for the extreme casualness with which Dare kills a number of the men guarding the trailer (especially since Dare insists that he “detest[s] bullies and needless violence”). Because we all know it’s okay to kill the bad guys, especially when they’re not Americans. And we all know that human trafficking only takes place in Other Countries, not the good old U S of A, so it makes perfect sense for someone to grab Molly in Ohio and transport her to Mexico for her captivity.

4. Embarrassing plot contradictions

I am not the kind of reader who easily unravels every twist and turn in a book before it happens, so when I notice stuff that’s wrong, it’s got to be, well, really, obviously wrong. Like the way Dare takes Molly to his house in Kentucky and tells her not to check her email from his computer because people can track her when she enters her passwords or other personal information. However, he has no problem with her using her credit card to purchase clothes online and have them sent to a PO Box in his town. Because anyone who had access to her passwords wouldn’t be able to track her credit card numbers, especially since she had left her purse and wallet in her apartment when she was taken. Dude. Seriously? Then there’s Dare’s expertise regarding police investigations: “…the police have an uncanny knack for forewarning every real suspect. It’s the way they investigate.” Now, if you need a minute to ponder that, check this out: what’s the first thing Dare does in investigating Molly’s kidnapping? Why he confronts and threatens his own prime suspect, Molly’s father.

If all that weren’t enough, there’s the actual guilty party. For most of the book we’re led to suspect one of Molly’s angry readers. There is quite a bit of page time dedicated to the ways in which her readers were angry and how they threatened her, and even those anonymous emails and letters that mirror the note placed in her apartment. For reasons inexplicable to me, Molly never seemed to notice that those letters – the ones with no return address (which, as far as I know, are now impossible to actually mail) – indicate they were mailed from her own town. Not that Molly ever took them seriously enough to call the cops or anything. Nor did she ever suspect the real kidnapper – her stepmother – of harboring such disdain for her books. In fact, Molly brags at one point about how her stepmother is a great fan of her work and reads all her books. So why her stepmother? I still have no clue despite the ridiculous reason offered: her books are “depraved” and her characters “without moral standards.” All I could think was that someone with that level of craziness in her would not have been able to hide it so successfully and for so long. Although given the aforementioned lack of attention to the letters, maybe it’s not so far-fetched, after all. Still, there were just so many moments like the ones I detailed here that I felt really insulted as a reader. In fact, I felt that the book was little more than a vehicle for the authorial persona to make a point about angry readers, sort of, perhaps like those readers who were angry about My Man, Michael.

5. Demolition of the fourth wall and the dangers of setting that kind of precedent

If When You Dare had been a really tightly plotted, strongly suspenseful, challenging and thoughtful book, I might have given the authorial intrusion more of a pass. But because the book was, for me, so weak in other ways, feeling like the authorial hand was reaching through the text made this book an aggravating, troubling experience for me. I was troubled by the unself-conscious use of the ‘crazy reader’ plotline and aggravated by the parallels to off-page connections to the author.

Molly is an author of Romantic Suspense who lives in Ohio. Totally coincidentally, Lori Foster is an author of Romantic Suspense who lives in Ohio. Molly wrote a book that caused a lot of reader controversy. Totally coincidentally, so did Lori Foster.

Then there are Molly’s persistent comments about the primacy of her muse:

“Truth is, if I had to do it over again, I’d do it exactly the same way, because I have to write a story the way it wants to be written, not the way readers want me to. That’s how my muse works. If I fought the natural process, I’d probably never get a book done, and I probably wouldn’t be as successful.”

To me that voice sounds an awful lot like Foster’s:

“Good or bad, readers react out of interest. If they read a book and was horribly disappointed, I’m sorry for that. If they read one and loved it, I’m glad. But I don’t veer away from my muse based on feedback. If my muse says, “We’re writing this,” then, well, we’re writing it. :-)”

The blog post in which that appeared, by the way, is titled “Follow My Muse.”

Another element of that comment is the “readers react out of interest” statement, which follows a statement about how the author isn’t “insulted” by criticism of her books. Which sounds a lot like this comment of Molly’s:

“There were threats, with people wanting to beat me up, people wishing terrible things would happen to me. But most of it was posted online for all the world to see, so I can’t imagine that anyone was serious. They were just letting off steam. In a way, it’s really a compliment.”

Okay. It’s a “compliment” when readers threaten you and wish terrible things would happen to you? To me, this reads as either the most disingenuous statement on the face of the earth or a barely veiled insult directed at the disappointed reader. But either way I read that statement, it’s contextualized by this whole fantasy subtext in the book about how a reader might be so put out by a book that they would pay to have someone kidnap and torture the author. I’m sorry, but that is not reader investment in an author’s book. That is criminal behavior likely fueled by some kind of mental imbalance. I don’t know how many readers are more invested than the author in a book or series, although I’d dare to wager that it’s not the vast majority of readers who criticize/dislike/are disappointed in/feel let down. But When You Dare seems to want us to entertain this vision of the crazy, stalkery reader going to such extremes, all the while the fictional author prattles on good-naturedly about how flattering it is to be the object of that kind of obsessive criminality. Sure.

And it made me angry. Not only because it just seemed so ridiculous, but also because I could not believe the that the fourth wall was being demolished for that. In a reading and reviewing environment where we emphatically insist that the book and the author are two different things, why risk narrowing that distance for this book? Why risk setting a precedent for this particular bully pulpit? It didn’t read to me as funny or darkly humorous or self-aware in the way that, say, Misery was. In fact, I have absolutely no idea what the point of the book was, unless it’s the same point this review of Transformers 3 is making, namely that the movie is a way for the director to “lectur[e] the audience.”

I’m still not completely sure what the point of the lecture is, but  by the end of the book I definitely didn’t buy into the logic of the kidnapping plot, the validity of the romance, or the notion that either Molly or Lori Foster is flattered or unmoved by reader criticism.

I don’t really need to assign a grade to this book, do I?

~ Janet

Edited to Add: Commenter SN posted a link to a May 2011 interview with Lori Foster in which she talks about her personal connections to her fiction, in particular Dare and Molly’s book. Given the discussion in the comments around whether Foster broke the fourth wall or not, and whether she intended a connection between Molly and her previous book controversy, I think this interview is extremely relevant, especially the following question and answer:

What attributes do you share with Dare and Molly? Of course, Molly is a successful writer, so you have that in common. Anything else?

Molly actually came about because of some reader mail I’d gotten—threatening me. I know readers get very invested in stories, and I’m thrilled that they care so much. Occasionally they write me with their frustrations over something that didn’t go quite how they wanted it to, or because they want a character to have a book, but I don’t have a book for that character. That’s fine—I enjoy hearing from them. But threats? Well, I’ve had a few that crossed the line. That’s not the typical reader, and it can be worrisome.

After one particular threat, the idea for Molly and the elements of the storyline dealing with one of her readers as a suspect took shape in my mind.

I love hearing from readers, whether they liked a book or not. But, just like Molly, I think my privacy is important, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

137 Comments

  1. Michelle W.
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 05:06:33

    I really enjoyed the book and didn’t have any of the above issues with it. I finished & also enjoyed the 2nd book in the series Trace of Fever and am looking forward to Savor the Danger.

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  2. LG
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 06:39:04

    This kind of thing is why I always cringe a little when I find out that a character in a book I’m reading or plan to read is a writer. Sometimes it turns out fine, or at least it’s not very memorable, and sometimes the cringing is justified. There was a series I had been reading for years. I was kind of getting bored with it, but I still continued to read it out of habit, feelings of nostalgia, and a lingering need to see if anything new would happen. Then the author wrote herself into the series and, if I remember correctly, paired the character who was a thinly veiled version of herself up with one of my favorite characters. That was the last straw for me, and I quit reading the series.

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  3. Mary Anne Graham
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:01:22

    I hadn’t really heard the term “the fourth wall” before. Or perhaps I had, but it didn’t make an impression because it couldn’t get through my thick skull. (Many things can’t make that journey.) After this review, I’ll remember the term.

    I agree with the author’s attitude towards her Muse as stated in her book. And I don’t think it would bother me to read the book, but then I lack Janet’s information and close connection to the literary world at large.

    I wonder if knowing so much more than the average reader makes this a “fourth wall” experience for Janet? I agree that the author should never get in the way of her story and I try never to do that. But I have written a couple of books that occur at the intersection of love & the law. And I am a lawyer. I hope me the person doesn’t creep into the books because they’re not about me and I want readers to enjoy the story without my imaginary hand reaching through the text.

    Now, Janet’s given me something else to worry about. I already act (too much) like the dog in that commercial. You know, the one hat’s all worried about keeping his bone safe? Now I have another bone to worry about.

    http://alldayallnightromancedivas.blogspot.com/

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  4. Tonya
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:15:26

    I love this whole series of Lori Foster’s. I didn’t have any problems with any of these books. She is an amazing author & at the top of my list of favorites.

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  5. Edie
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:32:01

    I used to be a fan, LF books used to be my light and fluffy go to reads when I still read contemps. But I stopped reading after MMM and the schlock horror under the pseudonym.
    And I am soo glad that I did now. o_O
    I knew she had a carp response to peoples outrage at the sudden switch in the contemporary SFC series, but this, this takes the cake.

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  6. Mari
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:52:59

    Janet does a great job of detailing and explaining her pc preferences and how this book fails to conform to her own world view. Since I share none of her tastes, I am more intrigued by this review than anything else and will probably end up reading it.

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  7. RStewie
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:55:01

    I had no idea of the personal backstory and mirroring of the author with the heroine–I read this and enjoyed it as a fun read. The plot holes were fairly evident even in my quick read and when I tried to read the next I ended up DNF for it from a loss of interest and a faintly offended view of the “hero”.

    This does open a whole other way to view the book, though, and it is not as kind to the author as just figuring some plot points were handled a little lazily.

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  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 07:57:56

    I tend to feel the same way, and I avoid books with authors as heroines unless I’ve read a lot of good things about it. Too close, and yes, I agree, a bit creepy.
    It’s tempting to write about authors, especially since you’re told to “write what you know,” but I don’t think I’d want to expose myself in that way, or read about anyone who has.

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  9. Christine
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:05:39

    Wow. That was quite a review. I’m still taking it all in. I haven’t read this book yet- I have only read a couple of Lori Foster books, one I really liked and one DNF (just couldn’t get into it.) I think it’s interesting that this book engenders such strong emotions in reviewers- on the AAR site the reviewer dropped her grade from what seemed like an A down to a B- on the basis of one word the author used “turgid.” That spawned a debate on the boards there. I have to say a number of the things mentioned simply don’t bother me. A lot of writers “use what they know” and base some part of the characters on themselves. I remember chuckling when reading “Open Season” by Linda Howard where Daisy gets a makeover to blonde, wears and ankle bracelet and gets a golden retriever knowing on the back cover was a newly blonde author with dog and ankle bracelet.I also don’t mind the mention of the nail length as long nails certainly don’t say “masculine” to me while short ones might (although I wear my own short.) Regarding the accents, the truth of the matter is no matter where you go, in your country or out, if someone doesn’t talk like you do they have an “accent.” I don’t think I do, but when I open my mouth outside of Massachusetts people are very quick to say “Boston, right?” Even when I am down south I will think of people’s “accents” even though I am the one with the accent there. So many other of the complaints could be leveled at any number of romances, description of the heroine, jumping into a relationship right away after a “trauma” etc. I can hardly point the finger at Lori Foster. Also, there are a lot of romance “tropes” I have to admit I enjoy even knowing they are unrealistic or even silly. I suspect this is a book that hit a number of buttons for the reviewer possibly because they knew so much about the author to begin with.

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  10. KB/KT Grant
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:13:12

    Why is it when readers go after an author because they have issues with their book, the author automatically goes on the defensive and says their muse is responsible or their characters made them write the way they did? Authors are the inventor and creator, so they’re the ones responsible in making their characters act a certain way or how the story pans out.

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  11. Christine M.
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:15:57

    That sounded like any number of self-insertion fanfics on ff.net. Meh. I’m totally not into Mary-Sues, so I definitely think I’ll skip this one.

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  12. Laura Florand
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:29:48

    Actually, I have to say, I have a certain fondness for books with an author hero who is treated like a rock star. Five-star hotels hold a penthouse suite on reserve for him, for free of course, just in case he might stop by and sign some books, etc. I am always in stitches over these. Hey, dream a little dream… :)

    It sounds as if you did like Misery, right? I was wondering about that as I read the review, because the idea of a crazed reader torturing an author of course makes this leap to mind, and I was interested to see your comments on its self-awareness as something that distinguished it.

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  13. k reads
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:30:00

    Do the characters or the author address the readers directly? Do the characters acknowledge they are fictional? Because from your description, it doesn’t sound like Foster broke the fourth wall. It just sounds like the heroine is a stand-in for the author. Irritating to be sure but not the same thing as breaking the fourth wall.

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  14. Laura Florand
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:30:58

    P.S. I haven’t read this book by Lori Foster so can’t comment on that, but am curious to follow the discussion of main character=author.

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  15. Emily
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:33:51

    I picked this book up for 3$ at a thrift store and I almost gave up on it a couple of times as a DNF, but I tend to finish pretty much everything I start so that is the only reason it was finished. I did feel it was a waste of that 3$ as I agree with the majority of what Janet said about the characters and plot development. A lot of things didn’t make sense to me – from the issues with security to the “I don’t care anymore let’s see where this goes” attitude of the hero after 2.5 seconds. I was most disturbed by the flippant “I’m fine” heroine who was a victim of assault, some of it sexual (because groping is sexual), and she gets over it quite easily in a weekend. I am all for a strong heroine, but that was not believable or relatable to me at all as a victim of sexual assault.

    I also wanted to ask, what’s up with all these people showing up at her apartment all la-de-da??

    I haven’t read anything by LF before, but I also felt she was probably projecting herself into the story which I usually feel is what is happening when the main character is a writer. This was almost as ridiculous as trying to make us believe it was a reader trying to kidnap her. I knew it was the step-mother the first scene she appears! I unfortunately will never try a novel by LF again and wish I could get my 3$ back.

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  16. BevQB
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:38:26

    2. A good woman is a small, demure, feminine woman

    I can’t guess at how many books left me cringing when that particular trope is taken to the extreme. I’ve been creeped out reading the hero’s constant thoughts about the heroine’s child-like size and child-like traits. It seriously makes me think he is really a closet pedophile. I’m pretty sure that heroes aren’t supposed to invoke that reaction in a Romance.

    All in all, Janet, I think you expressed all your frustrations with this book admirably. I haven’t read a Foster in years and your review reminds me why I won’t be picking another one up.

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  17. Mary G
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:51:33

    Wow. I enjoyed this series. Most of the time I read for pure
    pleasure and don’t think about hidden (or not) agendas. It reminds me too much of high school English class – dissecting & analyzing books & poetry and wondering what the author really meant which I hated to do. What if the author chose an orange shirt for no other reason than he liked the color orange?

    However I appreciate your post as it’s the way the book affected you.

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  18. K. Z. Snow
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 08:58:54

    I’m just plain sick of all the “muse” babble, period. I mean, come on, we’re not talking about timeless literature here (and I don’t just mean in relation to LF).

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  19. dick
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 09:05:44

    Well, ya know, Jane Austen had no qualms whatsoever about blatantly breaking the fourth wall. I read books like this one as what they are–unadulterated adventure fantasy. I don’t think any book of this sort could stand up very well to critical scrutiny; I’m not sure it’s even worthwhile doing it. However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one, even though I also thoroughly enjoyed Foster’s book.

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  20. Carin
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 09:24:18

    OK, I had to google “breaking the fourth wall”. And got a definition as to how it applied in a play where the characters/author address the audience directly. Maybe there’s a different application in the book world that I don’t get? Because I read the whole review and it sounds like Janet was annoyed because the heroine came across as the same person as the author. But there was no addressing the reader directly, right?

    I think there was a post a while back about how visible an author is and how that affects the readers when they read a book. I don’t think it was Foster that spurred that discussion. This review reminds me of that. Based on the review, the book had a lots of flaws, but if Janet hadn’t known Foster as well as she does, I wonder if the author/heroine link would have slipped by her like it did other commenters.

    All the fourth wall stuff aside, because it confused me, thanks for the review. I haven’t read a lot of Foster but what I have has been very hit and miss. I’ll pass on this one.

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  21. John
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 09:26:52

    I’ve already mentioned that I enjoyed the book…but I’m among the people that had no idea about Foster’s previous history with her “muse” and reactions. If I had been, I don’t think I would have picked her up, much less picked up When You Dare. I read through it with mild interest, so I wasn’t picking up the plotholes or anything else. The characters WERE Mary-Sue to the extreme, though.

    After this break-down of its components, though, I wouldn’t be able to read it again. Too much obviously wrong with it when you have a small bit of knowledge related to the author.

    I also have to agree with @KB/KT Grant: Yes, you get ideas. You can call it your “muse” if you want. I don’t give a crap about that. But, you cannot try to convince me for one SECOND that you have “no control” over what you write because of it. Not everyone uses their “muse” to the same extent, but if you are having your work published and edited, you are invariably changing some of what your “muse” originally put down to begin with. Even in literature, the work has to make sense for the story or the characters. If I were writing a contemporary YA, I couldn’t just add in a vampire near the end to shock my readers because my “muse” told me to do it.

    It wouldn’t make any ever-loving sense. When authors use the muse explanation, they should always elaborate. Because cases like these show that the “muse” excuse can be just that – an excuse.

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  22. Janet P.
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 09:37:14

    I read this book with no idea of previous controversy and could definitely sniff a back story. Now I know it. LOL It was an almost DNF for me. I mostly finished because I was too lazy to go find something else to read. I found the martyred good as gold heroine who was abused by everyone in her life (except her sister) kind of gagging. She’s the type of character who walks around with a sign on her “Go ahead and kick me but we all still know I’m perfect!” Then there was the hero – so stupendify-ingly awesome that it was an insult to suggest he could be injured by a bullet.

    This book doesn’t even touch my nomination for 2011′s worst scene in a romance novel – when the old boyfriend shows up.

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  23. Annabel
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:22:57

    The disappointed reader vs. the author’s muse is an interesting philosophical point to ponder.

    Ideally, I suppose an author should cater to her muse, and yet still meet the needs of her audience by writing a story that makes sense and does not seem carelessly written. (Or vindictive, LOL.)

    I do have some sympathy for LF if she felt so frustrated by reader response that she had to write a whole book about it like this. But it may indeed have just been a case of “write what you know” rather than anything meant to be retaliative or vindictive. I guess unless LF chooses to speak out about it, we’ll never know.

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  24. May
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:29:00

    I read this book when it came out – and I remember laughing my ass off when it became clear that the heroine = Lori the author and “oh I have to write the story my muse tells me” jabs at us readers of her light & fluffy contemps that were PISSED when some sci-fi time travel with virgins book was thrown at us mid-series.

    Great rant – and interesting perspective. Though I don’t feel strongly enough about this particular book to go back and re-read to take a closer look at your points.

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  25. LoriK
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:31:32

    The previous commenters are correct that this book doesn’t break the 4th wall, but it sounds like it’s a case of blatant Mary Sueism that would be embarrassing in fan fiction and really shouldn’t happen in published work.

    I’m not generally a fan of Lori Foster’s work (I seem to have really bad luck with authors who share my name), and I definitely won’t be picking this one up. IMO, if an author’s muse tells her to use her book to argue with unhappy fans, the author should tell her muse to take bubble bath or a vacation or a trip to a therapist.

    Also, the idea that LF’s muse demanded that she put a time travel book in the middle of a straight contemporary series is ridiculous. If she needed to write a time-travel/SF/whatever that’s fine. It simply needed to be a stand alone or part of another series. This is not a difficult concept.

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  26. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:37:46

    @Mary G That’s what we do here at DA. We dissect, analyze books and talk about what they mean to us.

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  27. LVLMLeah
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:41:55

    I find authors as characters really creepy. I usually can’t get past “is this the author?” and not a character as I read and it takes me out of the story quite often.

    It’s even worse when traits of the character, either in physical appearance or in similar RL situations like where they live, are incorporated.

    It makes me feel just a wee bit uncomfortable.

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  28. Patricia
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 10:50:19

    I agree with some of what you say but strongly disagree with a lot of it. It was not a great book, nor even a particularly good bood. Plot holes like the credit card usage, definitely pulled me out of the story, and were a serious problem with the book.
    I don’t agree, however, that there white/American=good; brown=bad prejudice in the book. There were local (e.g.”brown”) victims and local (brown) bad guys. There were also white/American bad guys so where do you get the white/American=good dictomy? There is much to criticize in the book, and I agree about the casual vigilantism, but prejudice against a particular race or color is not part of it. The hero thought the (American) white bad guys needed killing too, as much as that disturbed me.

    The hero purportedly fell for her because of her strength in surviving her torture, her intelligence and her independent nature, none of which I consider code for “demure”.

    I figured out that the bad guy was the stepmother by page 97, which indicates another weakness of the book if a reader can figure that out so quickly. Since I knew it was the stepmother, I never read the story as setting up a stalking reader as a potential bad guy.

    Authors get on soap boxes all of the time. They interject their positions on politics (sexual and governmental), the environment, all kinds of issues. I did not like the Michael book and it probably passed through my brain that the author was answering her critics, but that is it. It was just one more personal belief of an author that I could take or leave. I did understand the compliment comment since an author has to have written characters really well for readers to get so invested in them that they felt betrayed. This author has never written so well that I got invested in her characters but I still regret what Laurell K. Hamilton did to Anita Blake. I also agree with Ms Hamilton it is her character and her decision. My decision is whether to keep reading her books or not.

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  29. Kate Hewitt
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 11:01:23

    I haven’t read this book, but I have to agree it doesn’t sound llike breaking the fourth wall as much as the author turning herself into a character. To offer a different perspective, I have never wanted to write an author character. You put enough of yourself innto your books no matter what; I’d like to maintain a littlle distance.

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  30. Sunita
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 11:01:25

    I believe the fourth wall concept originated in theater and referred to a character breaking the wall between stage and audience, but in literary analysis it also has come to refer to other ways in which the author draws on the reader’s particular knowledge of something outside the pages of the book (or offers a wink/hat tip to readers “in the know”). In this case Foster appears to be explicitly Invoking the online discussion to provide the frame and meaning for the villain’s motivations. Compare that to King’s Misery, where the character seems much more of an archetype, and is, of course, much more skillfully and richly depicted.

    I know almost nothing about Foster and have never gotten past an excerpt. But if I had picked this up and read the evil blogger & muse stuff I’d have immediately Googled to find out the backstory. It’s just way too obvious there’s an axe to grind.

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  31. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:09:28

    Of everything in this review/rant, I’m surprised that the fourth wall issue has been the most controversial.

    Sunita said a lot of what I was going to, but I will add that one of the reasons I deliberately chose the fourth wall terminology (I thought about it quite a bit, as I’m not always the biggest fan of the way the term is used in lit studies) is that it zeroes in on that fine line between the fictional world and the real world. And to me, When You Dare absolutely, unequivocally, and clearly broke down that barrier.

    For me, it’s not just a case of the author inserting herself into the text — although I’d argue that can also be a breaking of the fourth wall in and of itself — but it’s a case of the author referring directly and in an undisguised way to a real life issue through a character who sounds an awful lot like the author herself. Not just referring, in fact, but basically addressing the readership and delivering a little lecture about the primacy of the muse and the importance of not getting too wrapped up in reader response (cause writing a whole book about that isn’t being invested, AT ALL). That I was aware of these issues in reading the book speaks more to their notoriety than to my off-page knowledge of Foster, which is pretty much nil, except for her statements of public record and the online conversations that have arisen around her and her work.

    Like this one: http://www.runningwithquills.com/2009/01/book-taboos-what-are-yours.html, which repeats some of the issues I referenced in one of the links in the review.

    Then there’s this infamous statement about Cassie Edwards, in which Foster insists that the plagiarism issue was between Edwards and her publisher and should not have been the subject of public discussion (which struck me as kind of ironic given the public nature of her lecture in the form of When You Dare): http://forums.rtbookreviews.com/viewtopic.php?p=138048&sid=21b689009d7923599db7d288358c6e20#p138048

    Because Foster has been quite public and vocal about the issues she used in her book, and because those issues and the voice and texts of the author(s) cross over so directly, to me it’s a pretty obvious little lecture Foster is delivering in the book. And the fact that both Molly and Lori live in Ohio and are Romantic Suspense authors who’ve written controversial books? Talk about self-referentiality, but in a seemingly unself-conscious or self-ironizing way.

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  32. k reads
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:12:44

    @Sunita: “but in literary analysis it also has come to refer to other ways in which the author draws on the reader’s particular knowledge of something outside the pages of the book (or offers a wink/hat tip to readers “in the know”).”

    Do you have any sources you could point me towards that would back up this statement? I’ve just never heard “breaking the fourth wall” applied this way; however my experience is in theater and it is quite clear what the phrase means there. I was unaware that the meaning changes when used in other mediums.

    I must say, it doesn’t sound logical to me. Breaking the fourth wall is a direct action. From the description, what Foster has done is indirect. Would a novel like The Devil Wears Prada be considered to break the fourth wall since the character of Miranda Priestly is a stand-in for Anna Wintour and the narrator/heroine is a stand-in for Lauren Weisberger, the author?

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  33. Lynn S.
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:32:04

    Plunked her butt right down in the middle of her book, did she now? At least it was “firm”, “plump”, and completely feminine.

    I get annoyed by even minor authorial intrusion but this book appears to go to a whole different level. Take some deep breaths;the feeling never goes away completely, but eventually it will fade.

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  34. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:33:55

    @Laura Florand: I couldn’t tell whether Foster was trying to invoke or play off Misery or not when I was reading When You Dare. I assume pretty much everyone regards it as the gold standard for obsessed/stalkerish fan behavior. But King is also writing a very different kind of book, IMO, one that is as much about the psychological elements of obsession as about the fan thing. And I think King is aware of the fine line between writing about fan obsession and elevating his own character (and therefore all authors) to some god-like status. In other words, I think he’s aware of the risk of lapsing into narcissism in the text, which is a self-awareness I did not detect at all in When You Dare.

    @Patricia: In terms of the race issues, by the time we get to the bad white guys, both Dare and Molly are delivering these impassioned speeches about how they abhor unnecessary violence. Dare gives that little lecture about how he’d never hurt anyone innocent or let an innocent get hurt, which struck me as ironic given the dismissive attitude toward the guys Dare kills at the beginning of the book, most of whom were, I think, pretty obviously not white Americans.

    As for the stepmother, she was so obviously a stereotype of the Bad Mother, I figured she must be a red herring. But what really irked me about having her be the villain is that it turned out that she was ALSO a crazy, obsessed reader, because she was sending Molly all those creepy letters and seemed truly obsessed with her books and characters. I found the whole thing ridiculous and insulting.

    @Annabel: I think most readers want authors to write what they believe in and our passionate about. We want them to follow their creative judgment. What many of us don’t want, though, is to feel that the author is using the muse as a way to invalidate reader response to a book.

    In Molly’s case, for example, you have that weird ‘I appreciate even my stalkery readers because they clearly love my books’ line, which just seems bizarre to me. REALLY? You REALLY appreciate readers who criticize your books? Since Foster has said the exact same things, in more than one forum, it makes me wonder why an author who truly does appreciate all those readers would write a book like When You Dare. Because for all of Dare’s denseness, at least he realizes that Molly is full of shit when she says that.

    If an author really don’t care about anything but following her muse, why deliver a long lecture about obsessed, critical fans to your readership via a fictional author who talks a lot like the author? Although Foster’s fan base likely won’t read all that as insulting, I find it deeply insulting to her biggest fans, especially in a book so plagued with plot and character weaknesses. It felt to me like the plot was an afterthought to the lecture, which made it doubly insulting to read.

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  35. Sunita
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:37:41

    @k reads: This article explains it relatively clearly, but of course it’s behind JSTOR’s paywall. The gist of it is that there is a shift in theater, art, and literature from consciously recognizing and including the audience to pretending they don’t exist. One literary analysis term for this study is “audience-awareness theory.” It’s different from 3rd person omniscient POV because it does not have the author or a narrator speaking to the reader directly, but rather the characters themselves have attributes which would ordinarily be carried by the narrator.

    This is out of my comfort zone, so I’m happy to be corrected. But it does seem quite different from allegory or symbolism. Foster’s heroine is not just embodying characteristics from her real life (a la a Mary Sue character) but is communicating information about events in Foster’s real world which are key to understanding the novel.

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  36. Eva / TXBookjunkie
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:43:15

    I’m not sure if I would have seen the correlation between the author in the story and the author of the story if I hadn’t already known about the controversy. I think I would have sensed there may have been more to the story, but it would not have affected me as much as it did. I did know about the controversy so as I got to know the heroine, all I could think was Molly=Lori. That was annoying. I agree on a lot of the issues you had such as money/success, the quick recovery, and security issues.

    I found the book OK even with all the issues and will probably eventually read the next 2 books – but I’ve never seen Foster’s books as awesome reads anyways (though some of her earlier stuff is quite enjoyable as long as you consider it a light read. I don’t know if I’d run out and purchase this book (I read an ARC), or the rest of the series, new but if it was on sale or at a UBS I think it’s not bad.

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  37. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:43:20

    @k reads: The difference between The Devil Wears Prada and a book like WYD, IMO, is the question of directly addressing the reader. While Molly doesn’t break out and say, ‘Hey, readers, I’m talking about you on behalf of the author!’ I think it’s obvious from the context of the book and the backstory that such a thing is happening. That’s why to me it’s far more than even an aside or a wink and a nod. The self-referential speeches Molly gives that mirror some of Foster’s own comments really seal the deal for me.

    Although I’m not the biggest fan of Wikipedia, I think they give a quick and dirty explanation of how the fourth wall can be broken in fiction in a way that does not necessitate the character literally turning to the audience to speak: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall

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  38. LoriK
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 12:45:21

    “Then there’s this infamous statement about Cassie Edwards, in which Foster insists that the plagiarism issue was between Edwards and her publisher and should not have been the subject of public discussion”

    Wow, I missed that gem the first time around. I’m now glad that I’ve much never liked LF’s books, because that was wrong-headed* in a way that would tend to ruin my enjoyment of an author’s work.

    *When a writer passes another’s work off as her own she’s lying to her readers. It’s legitimate for those readers to be upset by that.

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  39. Mary G
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:01:01

    Jane, of course that’s what this blog does. I’m just not eloquent enough to explain what I mean. I just didn’t agree with the teachers telling us what some long dead poet or author meant by his work. Even with authors/poets that are still alive, we can only surmise this unless we hear differently. I let my aversion to my English classes influence my comment. That’s why you all review & I just read. Too much like homework LOL.

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  40. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:06:26

    I personally am not comfortable with calling the book as described as breaking the fourth wall, but I can see WHY it can be seen/defined that way.

    That said, I would argue that anything written in 1st person has no wall to begin with; the narrator is talking directly to you, the reader. An unreliable narrator takes that even one step further.

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  41. Ridley
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 13:12:23

    When I think “breaking the fourth wall” I think She-Hulk, and it’s generally amusing when they do it. That is more like the theater definition, where the character addresses the reader directly, drawing you into an aside.

    I came across something like what you describe here in the latest Rough Riders book and I called it author grandstanding. There were a number of things the characters did and said that were less about the characters than about the author’s values and beliefs. As much as Chase’s strange speech about helmets in bull riding was obviously Lorelei James lecturing readers on the subject, it wasn’t breaking the fourth wall, since she didn’t have Chase address me directly.

    This Lori Foster book just sounds like a mix of author avatar and grandstanding. I mean, what she’s doing with this book is a thing, and it could be used for good or evil, but breaking the fourth wall it is not.

    As for everything else you cite, which @Mari charmingly dismisses with a twattish “PC” hand-wave, you explain why I generally dislike romantic suspense. Many of the shortcuts used to delineate bad vs. good guys rely on really questionable cultural assumptions. I find this sub-genre, more than any other, puts an author’s politics and privilege on display.

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  42. k reads
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:18:48

    @Robin/Janet: See, I think that for a person who follows the fashion world the way many of us follow the romance community, The Devil Wears Prada would be the equivalent of Foster’s book. Full of winks to readers in the know, but still contained within it’s own world. I think there are lots of books like that actually but I wouldn’t say any of them necessarily break the 4th wall. I’d categorize them more as metafiction.
    Granted I have not read “When You Dare” (I stopped reading Foster long ago and have never looked back), but it sounds to me like the author is lecturing her audience – standing on a soapbox, even – and using her heroine as a mouth piece for her own views. And if I understand the Wikipedia description correctly, it is not enough for Foster to make specific comments about real life events, she needs to directly comment on the text of “When You Dare” in order for the 4th wall to be broken.
    The book is meta, certainly, and while broken 4th walls are meta, not all things meta break the 4th wall.
    I know it sounds like I am splitting hairs here but as I said before, I work in theater and I have done a lot of shows where the 4th wall is broken, (in some cases even obliterated), and your characterization of “When You Dare” as breaking the 4th wall doesn’t mesh up with my own experiences, everything I’ve been taught about it, or anything I have read on this matter. This does not make me the be-all, end-all on breaking the 4th wall, I’m just trying to understand where you are coming from on this. (And why I asked for sources.) Breaking the fourth wall is an acknowledgement of the fictional illusion. Foster’s book just sounds like ham-handed, crappy writing.

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  43. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 14:51:07

    @k reads:

    metafiction

    That.

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  44. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 15:29:59

    I agree that it doesn’t sound like the author broke the 4th wall. I also have no problem with author heroines. Don’t we all love Sarah Fielding of Dreaming of You, who idealistically proclaims that she writes “for the joy of it,” not monetary gain? I’ve always wondered if Lisa Kleypas echoed that sentiment.

    I think the problem here is not that Foster created a character too much like herself. The problem is that she created a character like herself *whose beliefs you disagree with.*

    This is a great discussion piece but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a review. When the intention is to find flaws/parallels, it’s analysis or literary criticism. Sure, a review can have those elements, but a fair review is more open-minded IMO. Readers don’t usually select books that they are sure to hate. They go in hoping for something good!

    I mean, this is just an idea going through my head because I often wonder if my own reviews are fair or useful. Is a review less valid if the reader selects a book she hopes to dislike?

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  45. Artemis
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 15:36:26

    Wow! Now I know why I keep on reading this blog. I had no idea what a fourth wall was, or even the first three. After all, I’m just a reader, not an author, but I do know, I did not like this book.

    Everything came way to easy for the H/h. Dare needed help: He picked up the phone and made a call – presto there it was. Molly wasn’t overly concerned about the threats to her person either. After the MMM fiasco, I thought I would give Ms. Foster another chance with this new series. I barely got through this one. No more for me. I’m staying away like the plague.

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  46. Ridley
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 15:45:16

    @Jill Sorenson:

    Is a review less valid if the reader selects a book she hopes to dislike?

    Not if a review isn’t less valid because the reader selected a book she hoped to like.

    A bias is a bias. So long as you explain what worked or didn’t work for you and why, you’ve written a useful review.

    I think the problem here is not that Foster created a character too much like herself. The problem is that she created a character like herself *whose 0beliefs you disagree with.*

    I don’t think I agree with this, either. In the example I offered, where a character made a speech about helmets in bull riding that was quite obviously the author talking, I have no interest in the subject. If I did watch bull riding and cared enough to take a side in the issue, I might even agree with her that cowboy hats aren’t adequate safety gear.

    The problem is that author grandstanding is having characters behave in prescriptive ways rather than in a form that’s true to character. When I get the feeling I’m being lectured or taught a lesson, I resent being dragged out of a story for a lesson. I hated the strong gay rights grandstanding in a m/m book I read a while back, and I can’t think of too many people more supportive of teh gayz than I am. Grandstanding is less about message than it is about creating believable characters. If you can’t convince me that it’s the character talking, and not you, I feel like I’m watching an instructive video in a workplace orientation, and I tune the hell out.

    It’s not reader agenda, it’s shitty-ass writing.

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  47. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 16:38:01

    @k reads: I’m a hair splitter, too, so I think it’s good to bring your experience in theater into play with my experience in literary studies to parse out some of the distinctions.

    As you noted in your comment, metafiction is a broader category of literary device than breaking the fourth wall. And then there is the issue of author grandstanding or self-insertion or avatar or any of the other terms listed in the comments for a character speaking for the author or posing for some version of him/herself. All of these are devices that necessitate some level of self-consciousness and reflexive awareness of the fictional project.

    In theater, the breaking of the fourth wall is more direct, in part because you literally have the audience watching the play, and because plays are written to be performed, the audience awareness is often high, especially in comedies where the audience may be addressed quite often through asides and other devices (Theodore Braun, in the article Sunita cited, has a great discussion of this). But as Braun argued, there is also dramatic theater in which the purpose is to create the illusion of a fully-closed reality on stage with no awareness of or implication of an audience. As Braun argues, any direct address to the audience in this context would be a breaking of the fourth wall.

    Literature is different in its very nature, because the awareness of an audience is already distanced. While some novels mimic dramatic comedies in their direct implication or address to a reader, other forms of fiction — dramatic realism, for example — have evolved with an illusory sense that the audience is not there and that the action and characters in the novel constitute a separate and fully-closed world. While the reader may have a sympathetic connection to the characters and the action, they are not active participants or even contemplated as such. These novels are those in which you would not expect a character to step out from behind the world of the novel to speak to the reader or to speak for the author from behind that veil.

    I’d argue that this is the tradition into which Foster’s books (and a huge proportion of fiction, in fact) fit. As you pointed out above, there can be author insertion into the story without totally breaking that illusion, and there can be other metafictional devices in which there is an implicitly acknowledged awareness of the audience but not necessarily a direct address to the audience. And it is true that Molly never stands up and say, ‘hey, lookie here readers of Lori Foster…’ Indeed, it’s more subtle, a breaking of the fourth wall that’s more akin to the means described in that Wikipedia article, where the character makes a reference to an external text that is itself the subtext or pretext of the book in question. As someone who is not a follower of Lori Foster’s off-page life, I could not have read that book without recalling the several places Foster herself made those exact same points in the exact same voice, addressed directly to her readers. Thus to me it was clear she wasn’t just putting herself into the book or drawing an analogy or parallel; to me there was a direct intrusion by the authorial persona into the body of the heroine and a series of lectures directed at the audience.

    Why the difference for me? In part because WYD is supposed to be a novel of Romantic Suspense and while the heroine is an author, almost all the stuff in the novel that constitutes the lecturing is NOT central or essential to the character, the romance, or the suspense. The ridiculous set-up with the stepmother disapproving of Molly’s books was obviously a hasty add-on, and if you removed all the sections from the book where Molly is lecturing about the muse or critical and stalkerish readers, you would not lose anything from the bones of the romantic suspense plot. That doesn’t mean the rs plot would be fleshed out without all that stuff, because the lectures are so frequent, what should be the heart of the book is more like a shell to hold the lecture, which to me makes the disruptive, lecturing nature of that part of the text more obvious.

    And it’s just not the same as satire or cultural critique, nor is it comedic parody. It’s not the author delivering a general lecture about history or animal rights. It’s a specific lecture delivered about a specific incident with a specified audience, and it sticks out like a sore thumb within the context of the book. And it’s especially ironic because the whole drama over My Man, Michael was launched because of how the book was labeled. Foster was emphatic about how she still thinks she’s writing the same kind of books in the same voice and doesn’t have control over that labeling stuff, so readers shouldn’t come and complain to her. So does that mean she intended to write RS in this book? Cause I wouldn’t necessarily label it that. ;D

    Now I don’t know if we’ve come any closer to resolving the differences in our experience with the fourth wall issue, but hopefully I’ve clarified my position a little bit.

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  48. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 16:43:16

    I think the problem here is not that Foster created a character too much like herself. The problem is that she created a character like herself *whose beliefs you disagree with.*

    If this is directed at me, where did I say I disagreed with Molly’s beliefs? I just want to know what you’re reacting to before I respond.

    This is a great discussion piece but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a review.”

    That’s why I called it a “review-ish rant” and Jane posted it as today’s op-ed piece. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. As for whether I intended to like the book, I think I said I read it because I was curious about the backstory. I generally don’t assume I will like or dislike a book going in, but I do pick up some books purely on their buzz, and this was one of them. I even paid for it. ;D

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  49. Nicole
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 16:57:55

    This reminds me of when Aaron Sorkin got insulted that bloggers were criticizing his show Studio 60 on Sunset Strip (well deserved critiques I might add) and he decided to write in one of his episodes about how people on the internet have no lives. He is notoriously thin skinned and is probably not used to hearing actual criticism from the Hollywood sycophants. I have never read a book by Lori Foster but this whole “psychotic fan attacks author” seems like a childish reaction to criticism. Had this been a great book, like Misery, it would have been overlooked, but from what I have read in the review, it seems like it is yet another mediocre romantic suspense with poor character development.

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  50. Linda Hilton
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 17:26:24

    Fascinating discussion! I’ve never heard of “the fourth wall” concept, but as described here it makes sense in several sense, at least to my warped little mind.

    I remember sitting in an almost empty movie theater watching “Romancing the Stone” and laughing my a$$ off at all the things they got wrong about romance writers, not to mention the gazillions of glitches. It didn’t matter, because it wasn’t meant to be serious or teach anyone a lesson.

    As far as I know, I’ve never read Lori Foster, and after this probably won’t. But one thing that caught my attention as I got further into the discussion was the title. Seems to me the author has thrown out a challenge.

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  51. Phyllis
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 17:32:34

    I think the main problem with My Man Michael was not that it was SciFi (and fairly weak SF, for that matter), but that it was billed as part of the fighter series and even the back cover copy sounded like it was going to be one of those….. not fighter who travels in time and space to defend a planet of amazons.

    If it had been billed as a separate, stand-alone book that was only tangentially linked to the series, it would have been fine (though weak).

    And this book…. yeah, I wasn’t bothered so much by the author’s defense of her earlier work. Maybe because I had heard that it was in there, I was expecting it and could not worry about it.

    The credit card bit totally peeved me and the stepmother coming out of left field peeved me even more.

    But as romantic suspense, it wasn’t fabulous, either. In fact, it’s too long for what’s in it. Her 300-ish page books are much better than her 400-ish page ones.

    And Lori Foster’s women are almost always small and feminine and innocent and then men are big bruisers. It’s what I expect to see when I open a Lori Foster book. I’ve read quite a few of her books, but she’s one of those authors whose books I get almost exclusively from the library, and it takes me being in a mood for the mindless to read them.

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  52. lazaraspaste
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 17:40:18

    I just want to re-iterate what Robin/Janet said about metafiction vs. breaking the fourth wall in literature.
    Metafiction or metafictional moments in fiction are designed to draw attention to the fact that you are reading. For instance, in the second part of Don Quixote when everyone Don Quixote encounters has read the first book of his adventures and tries to recreate those adventures when they meet him. Or in The Princess Bride when Golding interrupts, in a totally different color of font, the story to talk about something different. Or Tristam Shandy, which is entirely a digression from the real story, the real story that never actually gets told.

    I think the reason that Robin chose to call what Foster did in WYD breaking the fourth wall rather than metafiction is because the intrusion doesn’t actually work like meta-ficton. It isn’t self-conscious. It’s like having Hamlet suddenly turn to the audience in the middle of “To be or not to be” and say “And that’s why you shouldn’t do drugs, kids!” It is out of place in the context of the rest of the story, which is meant to be a totally immersive world.

    Which I think goes back to the question Robin ended on. Why break the fourth wall? Why have a heroine who sounds like a Mary Sue and acts like a Mary Sue and looks like a Mary Sue, deliver speeches designed to what? Rebuke the reader? Teach the reader to read this book? Like why? Does this book need the reader to be taught to read it? Is it that complex? What’s the point of talking about writing in this book the way that Foster talks about writing and readers? I don’t think anyone’s really said anything about that. Why do it at all? If it was self-conscious, then what was the point of it? What was the purpose?

    These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’d actually like to know.

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  53. etv13
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:01:41

    I think some of my misgivings about the “fourth wall” discussion stem from the sense I got from the title of the post that you’re criticizing the book for breaking the fourth wall, period, rather than for breaking the fourth wall badly. Breaking the fourth wall is a device that, when done well (Richard III, Jane Eyre), can be very effective. It sounds as if it wasn’t done well here, and that that is only one of many problems with the book, but the way the discussion is set up it creates the impression (which may well be a misimpression on my part) that you are saying that what happens when an author breaks the fourth wall is that you get a lousy book.

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  54. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:12:47

    @Robin/Janet: Well, I get the impression that you disagree with the author on many things. And the thrust of this piece is that Molly = Lori. If Molly was a gun-hating human rights activist who rescues reviewers (and kittens), and LF was also that type of person, would author intrusion be as much of an issue? It’s the same point I was making about a Lisa Kleypas and her author character. When we like the book/author and agree with her beliefs, she gets a pass.

    Another example is Pleasure’s Edge by Eve Berlin, about an erotic romance author experimenting with BDSM. I loved it. Jane thought it skirted too close to the author’s real life. But we both loved Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl, also about a romance author.

    When is it okay for an author to be like her characters or draw from real life?

    I’m with you on most political issues, Robin, and on the reader-author relationship. I don’t think it’s a good idea to insult reviewers or lecture readers. I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that authors shouldn’t reveal our viewpoints, and that if we write about experimenting with sex or (god forbid) show some cleavage on our web sites, we’re inserting ourselves in the text.

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  55. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:26:06

    @Jill Sorenson

    I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that authors shouldn’t reveal our viewpoints, and that if we write about experimenting with sex or (god forbid) show some cleavage on our web sites, we’re inserting ourselves in the text.

    Authors can reveal their viewpoints all they want, but no action is done with impunity. If authors want to show pictures of themselves falling out of their dresses, that is their own perogative. However, the more that authors insert themselves so obviously into a story or talk about fantasizing about sex with their heroes or display themselves in a manner more appropriate for a porn site than their author facebook page, then they are blurring the line between criticism of the book and criticism of the creator.

    I recall the great furor over someone else’s review wherein the reviewer said something like “and I wonder if the author even knows how to give a blowjob” based on some text in the book. The hue and cry was great that no reviewer should ever, ever address the author in such a manner. Yet, why is that not fair game when the author is becoming her character or when blog posts suggest that the book is more roman a clef than fiction? Do authors want to become critiqued personally? I don’t. In fact, I make an effort to avoid author blogs and facebook pages if possible because I don’t want the author as a person intruding into the fiction of their stories.

    I should add that while I fully support gay rights, I’ve stopped reading Brockman because I felt that her books became too didactic.

    Oh wait, I had to add one more. There was a chick lit author published by Harlequin’s chick lit line (can’t recall the name of the line). The heroine had a bad divorce, was a single parent of a young boy, had a bad termination, had curly dark brown hair, was of mixed race, and a few other things. I enjoyed the first two books in that series and went to read more about the books when I came across the author’s website. In her bio, she explained that she had come off a bad divorce, was a single parent of a young boy, had gotten fired from a crappy job and her author photo? Exactly the visual description of the heroine. I stopped reading that series.

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  56. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:57:59

    @lazaraspaste

    Which I think goes back to the question Robin ended on. Why break the fourth wall? Why have a heroine who sounds like a Mary Sue and acts like a Mary Sue and looks like a Mary Sue, deliver speeches designed to what? Rebuke the reader? Teach the reader to read this book? Like why? Does this book need the reader to be taught to read it? Is it that complex? What’s the point of talking about writing in this book the way that Foster talks about writing and readers? I don’t think anyone’s really said anything about that. Why do it at all? If it was self-conscious, then what was the point of it? What was the purpose?

    You’ll have to read the next book in the series to find out.

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  57. GrowlyCub
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:59:47

    I’m not surprised Foster used a whole book as a platform to get back at readers she feels should keep their mouths shut. Her attitude in the MMM fiasco was just shy of ‘fuck off’ and she has a history of such behavior and a really bad reputation with (some) booksellers in the Cinci area due to her mode of personal interaction.

    Writing a book about how horrible ones’ readers are surely takes the cake in the passive aggressive game, though.

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  58. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 19:59:53

    @Robin/Janet

    As for whether I intended to like the book, I think I said I read it because I was curious about the backstory. I generally don’t assume I will like or dislike a book going in, but I do pick up some books purely on their buzz, and this was one of them. I even paid for it. ;D

    I dislike the idea that there is some prohibition on readers discouraging them from picking up a book by an author that they haven’t liked in the past. There are so many authors that are uneven to me that I can’t imagine what my reading life would be like if I had to read books by authors only if I liked their last one. Authors don’t get second chances? How sad!

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  59. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:01:09

    @Mary G I understand. When I write a review, sometimes a book becomes less enjoyable as I go over it for the review.

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  60. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:09:51

    @lazaraspaste: I think the reason that Robin chose to call what Foster did in WYD breaking the fourth wall rather than metafiction is because the intrusion doesn’t actually work like meta-ficton. It isn’t self-conscious. It’s like having Hamlet suddenly turn to the audience in the middle of “To be or not to be” and say “And that’s why you shouldn’t do drugs, kids!” It is out of place in the context of the rest of the story, which is meant to be a totally immersive world.

    YESSSSSSSSSSSS. Thank you!

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  61. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:20:50

    @etv13: It’s not just about how well it was done but the purpose for which it was done. In WYD, it wasn’t about a character stepping out and breaking the illusion of fictional realism; it was about the author using the book and the heroine as a vehicle to lecture “bad” readers.

    @Jane:

    @lazaraspaste

    Which I think goes back to the question Robin ended on. Why break the fourth wall? Why have a heroine who sounds like a Mary Sue and acts like a Mary Sue and looks like a Mary Sue, deliver speeches designed to what? Rebuke the reader? Teach the reader to read this book? Like why? Does this book need the reader to be taught to read it? Is it that complex? What’s the point of talking about writing in this book the way that Foster talks about writing and readers? I don’t think anyone’s really said anything about that. Why do it at all? If it was self-conscious, then what was the point of it? What was the purpose?

    You’ll have to read the next book in the series to find out.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    But in all seriousness, I’d love to discuss those questions, because I’m at a loss to understand why an author, especially an author who has already had a big public platform to make many of the same statements, would feel the need to do so in a book, as well. And to do so through a heroine who seems, to use @GrowlyCub‘s term, “passive aggressive,” in her presentation of them. That’s the discussion I anticipated for this piece, actually. ;D

    @Jane: I think everyone knows my story of being so traumatized by Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror that I had to comfort myself by thinking about all the feminist books that had ever been written, lol. Still, when her time travel series came along, I was curious to see what kind of work she was doing now. I didn’t love the books by any stretch (and I still don’t understand how a “club-like penis” is sexy), but I didn’t hate them, either. I probably wouldn’t read another one of her books without a really, really strong rec from someone I trusted, but I absolutely know I have the right to read another of her books if I should choose to.

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  62. Sunita
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:22:09

    @Jill Sorenson:

    I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that authors shouldn’t reveal our viewpoints, and that if we write about experimenting with sex or (god forbid) show some cleavage on our web sites, we’re inserting ourselves in the text.

    This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, it’s a spectrum. Authors talk about their families, pets, issues they care about, etc. all the time on their sites and blogs. For the most part it creates pleasant bonds between writers and readers, although both sides vary in how much they offer and how much they want to know. But more and more sharing means moving to the extreme ends of that spectrum.

    Authors don’t automatically insert themselves into the text when they share private information that is irrelevant to our understanding of that text. But it blurs the line between the author as person, the authorial persona, and the text. If you as an author don’t have a problem with that, that’s entirely your right. Just as it’s my prerogative as a reader to prefer a text from which I don’t have to erase my knowledge of the author when I read it.

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  63. Jane
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 20:26:24

    @Sunita I think every readers’ hot button is different. Some readers love to know more and more and more about the authors and that it all enhances their reading experience. I’m probably on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t want to confuse the author persona with the fiction.

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  64. Robin/Janet
    Jul 19, 2011 @ 21:01:50

    @Jill Sorenson: I agree with you that authors shouldn’t automatically be confused with their books or judged via their books (or have their books judged from off-page behavior). Which is why I’m so baffled by why Foster would bust through that line between her own voice and her heroine’s so boldly. I think it sets a worrying precedent, because it’s coming from the author, not the reader. But will readers see it as an invitation to judge authors personally based on their books?

    I do think that because authors are doing so much personal marketing, it’s a balance to keep that line taught and clear. Although is it any worse than the days authors had to routinely write those Dear Reader letters? Talk about blurring boundaries, lol. I’m actually hoping that moving away from the artificial intimacy of that old genre culture will have a professionalizing effect on the interaction between authors and readers.

    I remember a discussion on Teach Me Tonight regarding the new M&B Riva line, though, and one author made a comment to the effect that an author’s work reflected some of her social views. I was like “NO, don’t tell me that!” For one thing, I don’t think it’s necessarily true. I think sometimes when an author thinks they’re portraying one message, readers perceive another message. In other areas, I think it’s inevitable for certain author likes and dislikes to make their way into their books (like Laura Kinsale’s love of horses, for example, or Julie James’s background as an attorney).

    Where I hit the wall with Foster’s book is in its IMO weak craftsmanship. Like it wasn’t enough to lecture me, but the book wasn’t even well-constructed and powerfully written. That did make me mad, and had the book been stronger, I might have been able to read around the lecturing.

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  65. k reads
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 01:26:07

    @Robin/Janet: “Now I don’t know if we’ve come any closer to resolving the differences in our experience with the fourth wall issue, but hopefully I’ve clarified my position a little bit.”

    I don’t think I am understanding how you define breaking the fourth wall. AFAIK, it is doing away with the invisible line between the audience and the work of art; whether it is the characters or author, there is some sort of direct acknowledgement of the audience.
    According to wikipedia (I know, I’m not a fan either but it was the only definition I could find), in literature “The phrase is sometimes also used about books when a character refers to the text itself.”
    Are there specific examples in WYD that fit either of these definitions?. Because this:
    “It’s a specific lecture delivered about a specific incident with a specified audience,…”, while problematic, does not seem to fit either definition. If the lecture is delivered to another character or is an inner monologue, then there is a barrier (however flimsy), between the lecturer and the audience and the fourth wall remains intact.

    Your argument seems to me to be more that the line between author and character has been broken… which has nothing to do with the fourth wall. It’s just fanfic.

    @lazaraspaste: “I think the reason that Robin chose to call what Foster did in WYD breaking the fourth wall rather than metafiction is because the intrusion doesn’t actually work like meta-ficton. It isn’t self-conscious. It’s like having Hamlet suddenly turn to the audience in the middle of “To be or not to be” and say “And that’s why you shouldn’t do drugs, kids!” It is out of place in the context of the rest of the story, which is meant to be a totally immersive world.”

    I would argue that breaking the fourth wall IS a conscious choice that is used deliberately. It is a specific device. There is no subtlety. No half way measures. It’s used knowingly and purposefully.
    (Too be honest, I’m not positive I understand your Hamlet example. Hamlet breaking the 4th wall as described does not come across as an unconscious act but a deliberate choice. And even if the act is out of place, even if it is jarring, even if it is a WTF moment, that doesn’t mean it broke the fourth wall. It just means the suspension of disbelief was lost.
    Am I misunderstanding? It’s awfully late and I am feeling awful thick-headed…)

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  66. etv13
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 02:56:51

    @ k reads: To go a bit off topic, I’m not sure Hamlet necessarily does break the fourth wall, though of course in any given production that’s an available choice. He doesn’t have to be portrayed as being aware of the audience; we could just be hearing him think out loud. (It’s been a while, but in the Branagh movie, aren’t the soliloquies in voice-over?)

    Going back on-topic: I agree with the people who say that what the post seems to be complaining about isn’t really breaking the fourth wall. I also think it’s incorrect to think of breaking the fourth wall as something opposed to metafiction, or is an attempt at metafiction done badly. As the Hamlet/Richard III (I think he’s much more likely addressing the audience than thinking aloud than Hamlet) examples show, breaking the fourth wall is an important feature of some damn fine works of art. A good enough author can even be polemical when she does it and get away with it, as in the “only a novel” passage in Northanger Abbey. I don’t think Austen is castigating her readers for being bad readers, necessarily, but she certainly has a point to make about her kind of work.

    Good authors can also write good books about authors. Not just King (whose writing I find very uncongenial, but that’s just a matter of my personal taste), but Georgette Heyer, Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, Josh Lanyon, Dorothy Sayers, among many others, all have written excellent, fully developed writer-characters. Harriet Vane is even arguably an author self-insertion, yet she’s a lot of fun to read about. All of which seems to me to boil down to the conclusion that the only real sin for a writer, qua writer, is to write badly.

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  67. Tamara Hogan
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 08:47:10

    I was talking with a friend this morning about how Angelina Jolie’s high public profile has negatively impacted her ability to do her job – which is to act, to lose herself in someone else’s persona. I “know” too much about her personal life to completely divorce myself from it. I can no longer watch her act without my first thought being, “How did they cover up her tattoos?”

    I haven’t read this book, but I can’t help but wonder whether it might have been received more favorably if readers and reviewers had absolutely no knowledge of Foster’s purported reaction to how the previous book was received. This fascinating discussion reinforces my long-held personal opinion that knowing too much about any artist’s personal life can’t help but influence my experience of their art, almost always for the negative.

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  68. Isabel C.
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 10:00:10

    As a King fan, I think that the difference between Misery and When You Dare (at least as described) is that the author character in Misery is pretty flawed himself. He’s got three flawed marriages behind him, he has a drinking problem, and he’s somewhat pretentious. Over the course of the novel, we also see him at his most pathetic and injured. It doesn’t come off as a wish fulfillment thing.

    This isn’t true of all King–I love IT, but having the writer character *also* be the messiah figure who gets not one but two disproportionately hot chicks is, well,a little much–but Misery works out okay.

    I’m fine with works that portray an author’s social views. (If those views are repugnant, I’ll probably stop reading, but that’s the risk you take.) I’m much less fine with works that seem designed to push the author’s personal problems on the audience: we don’t actually care about your breakup, Sorkin, or your daddy issues/Angry Young Existentialist angst, Wheedon or, in this case, your problems with criticism, Foster.

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  69. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 10:16:01

    How does anyone, a reader or reviewer know what is going on in any writer’s mind when they right a book? Or what their goal is, or if they are making a point, if in fact they are making a point?

    You can go through each word and still not know what the author really meant by writing a certain theme, characters or plot, unless you outright ask her and get her views.

    Has anyone asked Lori Foster if she indeed wrote this book to stick it to the readers who didn’t like My Man Michael? Has anyone here had the courtesy of extending an invitation to Lori Foster to interview and get her thoughts, before slashing her book to bits?

    Whatever happened to reviews where the reviewer gives a brief synopsis of the book, and talks about what worked or didn’t work for the reviewer.

    I didn’t read this so much as a review, but more of a personal jab at the author, ASSUMING the author’s intent when she wrote the book, and ASSUMING the author wrote about herself.

    For the sake of argument, if she did. Then she did. Critique the plot holes or the fact that the characters just didn’t work for you, instead of making this a personal attack on the author.

    I’m sure Lori Foster isn’t too worried about these comments though, she’s an extremely successful romance author, has a huge audience who love her work and will continue to write.

    What concerns me is that this is setting a precedence of personal attacks against the writer, as opposed to reviewing the work and separating the writer from the work.

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  70. Jane
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 10:32:55

    @Holly

    What concerns me is that this is setting a precedence of personal attacks against the writer, as opposed to reviewing the work and separating the writer from the work.

    I think that is the very crux of the problem. When an author becomes the character too much, the line between criticizing the author and criticizing the work becomes nearly indistinguishable.

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  71. Sunita
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 10:42:07

    @k reads: I’m going to take another stab at this. I assume you agree that there are ways to break the 4th wall aside from talking directly to the audience? If so, here’s why I would argue this books is an example of it.

    The 4th wall exists to create the illusion that what is onstage is its own real world. When people (author or actors or characters) in that world make references to the outside world, or recognize the audience, or make reference to the illusion, they break the 4th wall. So it doesn’t have to be about talking to the audience, just a signal that the world is not “real.”

    In literature there are a number of devices that break the 4th wall. Narrators who speak to the reader, “editors” of epistolary novels, characters who speak to the reader, characters who refer to the text within the text, etc. In addition, when the author brings in material that is not organic to the plot, the characters, or the context, that has the potential to break the 4th wall.

    In this case, it is possible that Foster was just creating a Mary Sue character (which I agree is not a 4th wall break). But she puts almost exactly the same words in her MS’s mouth that she has used herself in various online venues where *she knows* she is talking to readers. Given the evidence Robin has offered, I infer that she did this knowingly, and that her aim was to use the character to lecture readers. Once you are directly lecturing readers, you are violating the illusion that the audience does not exist or exists apart from the text.

    I understand why people focus on the audience-interaction part of the 4th wall explanation, and I find the wikipedia article extremely limited for literature. But in trying to understand where the disagreement is coming from I’ve now read half a dozen scholarly articles and followed references to several more that explicitly talk about the fourth-wall concept in literature as being about the fictional world and the author and audience’s relation to it. It’s not just about intertextual references or direct address of the audience.

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  72. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:19:54

    @Jane:

    Yes, Jane, I agree with you, however, how does anyone know for sure that that’s what Lori Foster was thinking at the time she wrote this book?

    She writes for a publisher that have editors that have a lot of input into a writer’s book. Would they not have asked her about the theme, and perhaps advised against it? I’m assuming here as well, of course.

    I think it would be interesting to have a Q&A with Lori and ask her these things directly, and get her take on the theme and why she chose that theme.

    As for the Mary Sue heroine’s, it certainly didn’t Stephanie Meyers any harm with Bella and her Twilight Series. :)

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  73. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:51:52

    @Carin: I read this book, and though Janet doesn’t go into great detail about it here in her review, there is a large section (2-4 pages) of the book where the author (as her heroine) is basically talking to the reader. She goes on and on about how much drama surrounded the release of her latest novel (which sounded suspiciously like My Man Michael) and how sorry she was to disappoint them but, alas, she must follow her muse. She even puts her arms on the counter and leans forward, so as to get her point across better. I believe that’s what Janet is referring to. The other things were just gripes.

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  74. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:55:52

    When I started writing this comment there were 12 others – now there are 75. Obviously I need to read/type faster.

    But either way I read that statement, it’s contextualized by this whole fantasy subtext in the book about how a reader might be so put out by a book that they would pay to have someone kidnap and torture the author. I’m sorry, but that is not reader investment in an author’s book. That is criminal behavior likely fueled by some kind of mental imbalance. I don’t know how many readers are more invested than the author in a book or series, although I’d dare to wager that it’s not the vast majority of readers who criticize/dislike/are disappointed in/feel let down.

    Ironic, then, isn’t it that the villain turned out to be a reader?

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  75. lazaraspaste
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 11:57:45

    @Holly

    The thing is, you can never know what anyone is thinking, ever. Unless you are mind reader. We can only know what people are thinking–their views, their perspectives, etc.–through their words and their actions. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that they understand Foster’s underlying intentions or what she was thinking at the time. However, we can make statements based upon the evidence at hand, which is the text and the online, public, printed statements Foster made which bear an uncanny resemblence to the dialogue of her characters. Characters who are in a plot that is not totally dissimilar from the real life events surrounding the uncannily similar statement. Whether or not Foster intended for the line between her real life authorial persona and her heroine to blurred is a moot point because the result of both public, printed texts is that they were blurred.

    Which again–I really feel like I’m beating a dead horse here–goes back to the question: why blur that line when so many authors–even Foster herself with the muse defense–are adamant about distinguishing their work from their personal identity? Why blur that line? Why?

    That’s the question. How it was done (fourth wall, metafiction, whatever) or what the motivation behind it was (conscious, unconscious, intentional or unintentional) are peripheral questions.

    I think the central question Robin is asking is: if the author blurs the line between their real life and their characters to such an obvious and distinct extent that a reader feels as if they are in a conversation NOT with the story but with the author, then the reader is forced by the fact that author blurred the lines, to become exactly the sort of reader the author is lecturing against. That is, a reader who does not see any distinction between the author and the writer, the author and the text, but registers their disappoint in the story by attacking the author and sending hate mail.

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  76. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:07:36

    @k reads: I’m going to take one more shot at this, as well, and then I’m going to move on to a place of whether or not people agree with me on what to call it, I still want to know if anyone has any ideas on the consequences/implications/purpose of it…

    Are there specific examples in WYD that fit either of these definitions?

    Yes, and I posted one of them — the muse comment in the book and in one of Foster’s blog posts. I’m not sure how Molly’s comment could be read as anything but a direct reference to Foster’s RL comments. And I’d then argue it was a self-conscious choice because of the obvious connection. But I think it was unself-conscious on a deeper level, that is, in terms of its purposefulness to the novel as a whole (and this is the sense in which I think @lazaraspaste meant self-conscious). This level is really where the disruptive element of the fourth wall breaking comes in.

    For me the call was first-line and required no inference to see it as a breaking of the fourth wall. I was reading along (I already knew to expect the MMM stuff), and all of a sudden Molly starts talking about her “muse.” She did it a lot, actually, in the weirdest contexts, and I was like, ‘hmm, I’m pretty sure I’ve read some of this before.’ And it took me like 30 seconds to unearth Foster’s RL comments on the muse, many of which look like facsimiles of Molly’s. In fact, I’m thinking that if I really put some research muscle into it, I could find quite a bit of overlap between stuff Molly says and stuff Foster has said in public, b/c she’s pretty prolific in her public blogging and commenting.

    As Sunita pointed out, the fourth wall terminology has basically been adapted to the critical environment of the novel, and therefore its application diverges from that of the theatrical context. In some ways, the fourth wall is more substantial in a novel of dramatic realism, because the audience isn’t sitting right there watching. In other ways, it’s flimsier, because there is often a narrator who has a level of omniscience that can raise the reader’s conscious awareness that the world of the book is not fully enclosed. So unless the book is specifically designed to break that fourth wall as part of the narrative style (i.e. the editor of an epistolary novel, for example, or the narrator who serves as a liaison between the reader and the world of the novel), extra pains must be taken to bring the reader into the world of the novel as if it is a complete and whole world on its own.

    Now there are myriad things that may challenge that wholeness that are not breaking the fourth wall, per se, but there are also a number of ways to explicitly break it, and making reference to a specific controversy from the author’s life and transplanting it to the heroine’s is one. Even more powerful, though, is, IMO, the mapping over of text from author’s mouth to the heroine’s mouth, especially on topic where the author has been very vocal, and, in this case, where the topic actually relates to the controversy fed into the heroine’s character, as well.

    I don’t find anything satirical or parodic in the book. Nor is it a roman a clef, a la The Devil Wears Prada. I’d agree with you, though, that there are likely other things going on in the text, as well, including (but not limited to!) a break between the author and the character (and I had a moment of wondering how difficult and interesting it would be to argue that the author was writing fan fiction of her own work, lol). But regardless, I don’t think it’s just my reaction to this book that demonstrates the extent to which it broke through the illusory barrier protecting the integrity of the story’s realism. And once that happens, it’s not a story anymore, it’s a lecture from the author. As weak as I found the book, I’d be hard-pressed to believe that the author had no awareness of delivering a message directly to the reader by referring so overtly and in virtually the same voice to RL controversies involving her own books. Which is why I cannot just see it as author avatar or whatever.

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  77. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:11:51

    @Holly: And what about when she’s walking around Dare’s house talking about her muse to Chris (and OMG don’t even get me started on the stereotypes in his character, although that’s a whole different topic and goes back to #3 in my post). Some of this may be a ‘you need to read the book’ kind of thing, because the references themselves were not at all subtle or well-disguised, lol.

    And I forgot about that leaning on the counter to get her point across part. Heh.

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  78. etv13
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:30:42

    @ lazaraspaste: So are you saying that if some other person, inspired by to Foster fiasco, wrote the exact same book, you would react to it differently? It wouldn’t be just as bad? What if Foster published the book under a pseudonym? And how does the blurring of the distinction between the author and the character “force” the reader to do anything? I don’t read Robin/Janet’s original post as being “hate mail,” and it seems to me that her criticisms of, e.g., the book’s racism, would be just as cogent, and just as much directed against the author, if the line hadn’t been blurred.

    @Sunita: I don’t think breaking the fourth wall necessarily breaks the illusioin that the fictional world is real. To the contrary, I think some of those devices — an editor of an epistolary novel, for example — enhance the illusion.

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  79. Mary G
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:31:01

    @Jane:

    That’s why I love this place. It’s like the best discussions you have with your friends where one thing leads to another seamlessly and you talk about many things. There are at least 2 more subjects I’d love to see explored.

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  80. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:35:45

    @Robin/Janet: @Robin/Janet:

    When I read the book, I had issues regarding the plot holes and the stereotypical characters (such as Dare’s assistant and the evil step mother). I honestly did not see a connection between Foster’s real life views and the book. It hadn’t really clicked with me, mostly, I guess, because I didn’t read the book with that much thought or depth, it was a fast read.

    I would however, be interested in hearing her point of view and her side to all of this, and I doubt it would happen, but to read a Q&A and ask her if she purposely added similar comments she made to her heroine’s dialogue and thoughts.

    I think a lot of authors put their view of the world around them into their characters, it’s something I believe that is natural for writers to do, as do artists, dancers, etc.

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  81. Mary G
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:37:24

    OK Let’s say that LF was being preachy rather than subconsciously writing. Maybe this is too simplistic, but
    it doesn’t make sense to me.

    The people she pissed off with MMM won’t read her anymore anyway. They aren’t going to read WYD so who is she preaching to? Her fans just enjoyed it as written without looking for ulterior motives. Anyway,that why I spell it ANALysis.

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  82. Sunita
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:43:46

    @etv13: I was not expressing my opinion of what function devices like an omniscient narrator or epistolary editor perform. I was synthesizing what my quick perusal of the scholarly analysis of such devices argues. Of course not every epistolary editor has exactly the same function. But Baum, in his article on 18th-century art forms in France (Diderot Studies 2000), uses epistolary editors as an example (as does Wolterstorffer in an article in Synthese) of how the 4th wall is breached.

    This is not my field of scholarly analysis, although I enjoy being a consumer. I do find the extension to literary studies persuasive, and I buy Baum’s argument about the shift in the 18th century from automatic incorporation of the audience to efforts to isolate the performance/text/artwork from the audience and build an illusion of separation.

    I’m not sure what you mean by

    I don’t think breaking the fourth wall necessarily breaks the illusion that the fictional world is real.

    unless it’s because we’re using “real” to mean different things.

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  83. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:44:35

    @Holly: I guess I consider all of Foster’s public comments about MMM and her muse to be the answer to those questions. In any case, I’d never expect her to say, ‘why, yes, I certainly was lecturing my readers!’

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  84. Tamara Hogan
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:05:45

    The fourth wall simply isn’t an issue for people who read the book having no knowledge of Foster’s public comments. Blogging, messageboards, tweets, interviews, etc. can be a double-edged sword, can’t they.

    ETA that I wish I would have read the book before reading this post. ;-)

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  85. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:08:20

    @Mary G: I don’t know how many readers will turn away from a favorite author over one book, but I do wonder if these kinds of lectures are directed at core fan base in a strange kind of solidarity. Like, ‘I’m among friends here and can count on MY readers agreeing with me.’ I personally think that kind of lecture is *especially* an insult to the core fan base, though, because IMO it becomes all about the author at that point, and not all about the book, which is what the core fan base is purchasing and reading. In other words, at the very least it seems exploitive of the loyalty of the core fan base in a ‘buy my book and reassure me I’m okay’ kind of way (regardless of whether such a thing is intentional or unintentional).

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  86. lazaraspaste
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:17:23

    @etv13

    Yes. Because a different author would write a different book. It might be an equally bad book, but it could not be the exact same book because the author would not have been the same person making the public statements Foster did. Foster was the author. Foster made the statements. This blurs the distinction between the story and the reality.When I say force, I don’t mean it literally. I mean, within the reading experience of this particular book alone, the recognition by the reader that this line between text and author has been blurred to near non-existence, puts the reader in the awkward postion of identifying with the villains in the book because she, too, as a reader in recognizing that blurring, perhaps also recognizes her own reaction to Foster’s MMM. I’m not saying that this always happens. Clearly, it doesn’t for everyone. But by Foster creating a story in which the heroine is an avatar for her own authorial experiences, she then simultaneously makes the reader’s avatar the villains in the book–especially if they had the reaction to MMM that the readers in the story had to Molly’s previous book.

    I’m not arguing for an actual cause and effect, where readers actions are directly influenced by the text. Rather, I’m arguing about an identification process that happens while you are reading.

    And yes, Robin’s other criticism would have been equally valid regardless of the blurring of the author/text distinction. But that blurring makes the other problems of the book more disturbing because the blurring could make a person wonder whether these are just narrative tropes or if, like the lines about writing, are Foster’s actual viewpoint? And if so, does that change my reading experience of Foster’s other books? Do I now have to question whether these perspectives being put forth by the story are actually Foster’s? That all her characters are avatars?

    Suddenly, as a reader, I cannot trust the author. I cannot submerge myself in the story because I no longer see it as just a story but I begin to suspect it is only a vehicle for the author to lecture me about something. Much in the same way Victorian children’s story always have a moral about good behavior, I begin to suspect the only purpose of the story is to disguise pedantic lectures and essays. Like tricking a toddler into eating vegetables by disguising it as a smoothie.

    I mean, who does she think she is? Milton? But instead of justifying God’s way to man, her purpose seems to be to justify her own previous narrative choices as a writer to readers who failed to grasp them the first time.

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  87. etv13
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:19:34

    @Sunita: you defined breaking the fourth wall as “a signal that the world is not ‘real’.” But I don’t think some of the devices you list, such as the “editor” of an epistolary novel, signal that the world is not real at all. If anything, the presence of an “editor” in an epistolary novel enhances the verisimilitude of the novel’s being a publication of the underlying “real” letters. I haven’t read Baum, and I don’t know what real-world examples he gives of the use of such an editor to break the fourth wall, but in the examples I can think of, the “editor” functions more as a framing device than a wall-breaching device. A framing device can itself highlight the fictional nature of the story within the frame (that’s certainly what the framing devices in both the book and movie versions of The Princess Bride do, for example), but it doesn’t necessarily do that. Take the way Elizabeth Peters positions herself as the “editor” of a bunch of Emerson manuscrupts and journals in the Amelia Peabody books. Surely that is intended to heighten the illusion that the Emersons are real people, not to signal that their world is merely a fiction.

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  88. Mary G
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:23:21

    @Robin/Janet:

    I’m going by the angry “I’m never buying her again” comments I saw regarding MMM. So why would she wave a flag in front of her remaining & new fans. I swear, even knowing the back story, I never once thought about it while reading WYD.

    We all process info differently & I think it’s fascinating that some of us remained oblivious & others saw the elephant in the room.

    My reading process is different when I read for pleasure than when I’m beta reading or editing. I think reviewers have a different reading experience & my friends with book blogs attest to that. I think Jane alluded to that as well in a previous comment. And no,I do not beta read for LF.I would have said so if I was.

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  89. LG
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:36:20

    @lazaraspaste: “I mean, within the reading experience of this particular book alone, the recognition by the reader that this line between text and author has been blurred to near non-existence, puts the reader in the awkward postion of identifying with the villains in the book because she, too, as a reader in recognizing that blurring, perhaps also recognizes her own reaction to Foster’s MMM.”

    I haven’t read this book by Foster, but I have read books by another author that put me in a similar position. It’s hugely uncomfortable to want to write a decent review of a book but at the same time feel like any criticism of the author-character that you write is, in fact, a criticism of the author, because the author has put you in that position by writing themselves into the book as a character in that book. What can a reader who wants to honestly criticize a book do in a situation like that?

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  90. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:42:51

    @Robin/Janet:

    LOL Well since you put it that way. However, on her FB page she is addressing this blog, she hasn’t mentioned it by name, but it’s not hard to figure out which reviewer she is talking about.

    She has a lot of support of course, and also, it does seem to me the way she is posting about it on her FB page, that yes, she would appreciate it if reviewers would not assume what she has in her mind when she’s writing, and that nobody asked her what she was thinking at the time.

    She made it a clear point that in no way are her heroines anything like her physically, as she shares her age and her life.

    As someone in this thread said, blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting can be a double edged sword. Personally, the less I know about a writer, the more I may enjoy his/her work. However, take for example the book “The Help,” the author definitely put her own life experience, her career and her roots and her views on racism and how her own community has treated “the help.” She not only topped the New York Times Best Seller List, but she is being praised all over the place for injecting her views and in my opinion she lectures people in the book at lot.

    I guess, it’s all a matter of personal taste once again. A lot of people don’t mind and then there are those who do mind. I think when an author gets a bad review from readers about her book, the only thing she can do is either take the criticism and learn from it, stay quiet or take a chance and fight back. It’s what they are comfortable doing.

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  91. Amber
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:43:41

    @Jill Sorenson: “I’m just uncomfortable with the idea that authors shouldn’t reveal our viewpoints”

    It’s not a matter of shouldn’t so much as the difference between lecturing and revealing. I’ve given up on a number of authors who can’t seem to keep from hitting me over the head with their favorite causes.

    When fiction becomes a vehicle to lecture, it ceases to serve its purpose for me. Linda Lael Miller’s SPCA activism, Suzanne Brockmann’s gay rights agenda, Nora Roberts’s bottled water and exercise obsession. If I notice I’m being lectured by an author (especially if I *agree* with the author’s views), it’s time to stop reading his or her work.

    Bottom line is that the story should always be first. Reveal your views by all means, but don’t use your story to further an agenda.

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  92. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:44:04

    I would also like to add that I would venture to guess that people who read this blog who have not read this book, will now go out and buy it, Now that’s inexpensive promotion!

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  93. GrowlyCub
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:48:19

    @Holly:

    I bet she wishes people wouldn’t call her on her BS. :) As for not looking like her heroines, let’s just say she’s short and delicately feminine, if older…

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  94. etv13
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:55:49

    The scholars Sunita cites have probably addressed this, but it occurs to me that what makes moving the “fourth wall” metaphor from the theatre to other forms of literature problematic is that while there are no non-fiction plays, there are plenty of nonfiction books. When Jane Eyre says “Reader, I married him,” she’s directly addressing the audience, but that doesn’t signal that the fictional world is fictional; we could just as easily be reading a memoir. Acknowledging that the audience exists as an audience has vastly different implications in written literature than it does in a stage performance.

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  95. Mary G
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 13:58:45

    @Holly:

    Good Point! It’s okay if it’s turned into a movie?

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  96. Janine
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:02:18

    This is such a fascinating discussion to me, both as a reader and as a writer. Among my unpublished works, I have an as yet unpublished novella in which the heroine is an author and the text of the story she is writing has both parallels to and differences from her personal history.

    This discussion has made me reflect on the fact that by writing such a novella, I was inviting readers to speculate about myself, about how much of my own life and my own feelings the fictional author character reflected.

    This type of invitation can be disruptive to the reader’s reading experience, and is not always comfortable for the author who has (sometimes consciously, sometimes unthinkingly) issued it.

    I can’t speak for other writers but for me, the act of writing feels personal and private while it is taking place, and in order to do it well I have to pretend that no one I know personally will ever read my words, even though I know that I am writing for readers.

    I have no idea whether Lori Foster’s writing methods bear any similarity to mine, and even in my case, it is just a trick that I play on myself. Self-consciousness is acutely disruptive to my writing process, and I suspect to the processes of most writers, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many who talk about their characters as if those characters were real people, or deny any similarities between themselves and their characters.

    At the same time, no writer can be completely unaware of some similarities. Similarities always exist because we are the source of the fiction we write. Yet if we didn’t want to or feel the need to clothe the bits of our psyche that work their way into our writings, we would write memoirs and autobiographies instead. It is a paradox.

    I dress my characters in sharp differences, traits and histories that I don’t share with them, because it allows me to (during the writing process) be my most naked and vulnerable, when it comes to capturing those commonalities that I do share with them. Fiction is the lie that allows me to speak the greater truths.

    With regard to breaking the fourth wall in When You Dare then… I have not read the book but I can completely understand why some readers feel offended by a novel which casts those readers whose reactions to a previous novel trouble the author-character as the villains.

    We can only speculate as to Foster’s motives, and whether or not she intended to deliver a lecture, that has certainly been the effect her novel has seemed to have on some of its readers. They have a right to their feelings of indignation, just as any reader has the right to feel any reaction she or he has to a book.

    But I can see a possible other motive. Fiction writing can be a cathartic act. In my personal experience it is always so to at least some degree because I always have to draw on some parts of my psyche in order to create fiction.

    So I think it is possible that Foster was working out her own feelings about the My Man Michael controversy, not in order to lecture her readers, but in order to justify and reinforce her views (about her need to write what she is drawn to writing vs. the needs of readers) in her own mind.

    I am not sure that motive is any more palatable to readers than the lecturing motive, and it is also possible that if I were to read When You Dare it would change my thoughts on the matter. It is also possible that there was a mixture of motives at work.

    My speculations make me a bit uncomfortable, but I agree with Jane and others that the blurring of the line makes it difficult not to speculate.

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  97. Ridley
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:03:39

    @GrowlyCub: I also find it telling that she snarks about it on FB, inviting her fans to validate her in the process.

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  98. Sunita
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:09:36

    @etv13: The Peabody example sounds like what you were trying to explain to me, thanks.

    I put “real” in quotes precisely because the term is so much more loaded in literary analysis than in my field (social science research). Not just in terms of perception v. reality but in many more subtle and interesting ways.

    I can’t easily excerpt the Baum because it’s an image PDF but here’s a snippet:

    The narrator/editor, who lives both within the pages of the book as a created character, and — as a fictive mirror of the author – outside of the book, not only imagines that he will have other readers, he expects it, he talks to them directly, opens up the fourth wall for them …

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  99. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:49:40

    @Ridley: @GrowlyCub: I also find it telling that she snarks about it on FB, inviting her fans to validate her in the process.

    I think this is human nature and perhaps her skin isn’t as thick as some might think it is. Any writer (dancer, artist, actor, etc) who says they really don’t care what people think, then really don’t have a passion for their art, IMO. Of course she would care. A writer puts countless hours, sacrifices a lot of time into a project, puts it out there for the world to see and she/he wouldn’t be human if they weren’t put off by negative commentary, don’t you think?

    I’ve seen a lot of authors (well known and otherwise) use facebook, Twitter and their blogs asking for support when there is some form of negativity against their work or them.

    If Foster did indeed intentionally want to give a big finger to her fans who gave her so much grief over MMM, then, that was her right do to it in a way that made her feel good, and at the same time, pissed off a lot of people. If she didn’t do it intentionally, then we are all assuming a lot.

    Whatever the case, it’s out there and when I read the book, I didn’t pick up on the message, probably because I was just wanting to enjoy some brain candy. What bothered me more was the heroine who said she was fine, fifty times through the book. lol And as Robin pointed out in her review/rant, the whole starvation thing, being abused and recouperating so fast. Those things drive me crazy, but then again, it’s fiction. I won’t be reading this series, because I don’t care enough about the other characters.

    I do believe though that Lori Foster should thank you, because I have a few friends who informed me that they have never read her books and because they read this blog, they will now go out and buy this book. lol

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  100. Lori
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:53:43

    @Holly:

    Speak for yourself. Fourth wall aside, the plot holes would drive me crazy, so I wouldn’t read it even if given a free copy. And yes, I was a die-hard LF fan up until MMM.

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  101. Jill Sorenson
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 14:59:39

    @Janine: Very interesting! I like your take on this. It’s an uncomfortable space, sometimes, examining the similarities and differences between our characters and ourselves. I also think it might be a fallacy to believe that writing “what we know” is lazy or easier for authors. It’s actually difficult (for me anyway) to examine my flaws and relive my mistakes, but those are the things that I often draw from when I build characters. What you said about catharis is spot on. It’s quite common for me to take a bad experience and try to learn from it through writing.

    I wish I could respond to all of the comments addressed to me–so many great thoughts and ideas here.

    I should say that I believe in second chances and have no problem with readers selecting books they don’t think they’ll enjoy. My impression is that a more typical reading experience in genre fiction involves choosing a book for entertainment, not dissection. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. My point was that a review in which the reviewer has a certain agenda (to discuss the author’s online behavior) will perhaps elicit as strong of a reaction as, say, a book in which the author’s agenda is to lecture readers rather than entertain them.

    Anyway, thank you Robin and others for a fascinating discussion.

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  102. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:16:09

    @Lori:

    I am speaking for myself. :) I’m sharing what a group of people who have never read her are now enticed to read this book, to see what this is all about.

    Sometimes controversy like this actually sells more books for the writer, because people are curious by nature.

    @Jill Sorenson I agree with you with regard to reading genre fiction. I don’t tend to dissect or even try to find any hidden meaning in romance novels. I love them because they are pure escapism, and yes, many have the TSTL heroine and plot holes etc, but for the most part, I’ve discovered wonderful romance books, mostly from unknown writers.

    Robin, I would also like to thank you for offering up your views and opening up a lively and interesting discussion and also educational.

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  103. Janine
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:26:28

    @Jill Sorenson:

    What you said about catharis is spot on. It’s quite common for me to take a bad experience and try to learn from it through writing.

    Thanks, but…though I haven’t read When You Dare, based on the description of the plot my personal speculation is that Foster wasn’t so much trying to learn from the experience, as perhaps to process it in a satisfactory way.

    Casting dissatisfied readers as the villains in a romantic suspense plot could have been a figurative way of wielding power over dissatisfied readers. Foster created a representation in which the writer-character triumphs over her discontented readers, one that allowed her to tear them down, and since all villains get their just desserts at the end of a romantic suspense, I therefore wonder (though I’m not a psychologist) if the story wasn’t an outlet for her anger and hurt feelings, as well as a way to reinforce her personal beliefs about the importance of following her muse.

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  104. Ridley
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:27:21

    @Holly: Why do you keep pointing out that this review likely drove sales of the book? Do you figure that hurts Robin’s argument somehow? Are you hoping that makes the critical readers sad?

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  105. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:31:28

    @Ridley:

    I am sharing an opinion, my opinion. No, of course I don’t think it hurts Robins argument at all, nor do I hope or want anyone to feel sad about my opinions, I don’t believe my words on this subject would have much power.

    When I said Lori Foster should thank this blog for potentially drive up sales, it was tongue in cheek.

    This is an open discussion, I believe everyone is sharing how they feel about this subject and I don’t think anyone is out to make anyone else feel bad about their posts. If that’s what you read into my posts, then it is what it is, and you are dissecting my every word, no pun intended. Thank you.

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  106. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:33:22

    @Mary G: I have to tell you that I’ve refused to purchase further new books by authors but have continued to read their books used or on loan. The In Death series has IMO jumped the shark a few times, and I no longer will pay hardcover prices for those books b/c of that, but I will still read some of them. I suspect I’m not the only reader who is that way. Sometimes, too, I just need a break until the frustration fades and my curiosity or desire for a good book from a once-trusted author kicks back in.

    @LG: It’s also uncomfortable because it brings up questions like those Jill Sorenson asked some comments back I hate feeling like these critiques make authors question perfectly innocent or otherwise unremarkable or inoffensive cross-overs between the author’s life or base of knowledge and their work. But I also won’t keep quiet about this issue, either, because I think it’s so very important to be able to separate the book from the author. And here I’m not even talking about the author’s PERSONAL life — I’m referring to public comments she’s made in the persona of the author. And yet look at how much anxiety it’s producing.

    By the same token, though, I think authors do have to be aware of how much of their personal lives they share in public. I mean, if you are an author who blogs or comments publicly about certain things in your personal life, and then you write about those things, does a reader have a right to comment/question that? And if the reader then wonders about ANOTHER author’s work because the first author has blurred the line, is that legitimate or not?

    @Holly: I have to tell you that it cracks me up that Foster is talking about this on her FB page, because I think it kind of reinforces my critique. That she has to distinguish herself physically from her heroines . . . well, I don’t even know where to go with that, because that was SO NOT MY POINT, lol (not yelling at you there, Holly).

    @Amber: I definitely think there’s a difference between writing what you know and using your book as a soapbox to lecture readers. For one thing, writing what you know doesn’t directly implicate the reader.

    I wonder, though, what’s going to happen when Nora Roberts’s Boonsboro Inn series comes out in the fall. Will they be examples of the roman a clef, or is it just the setting and the Inn and its renovation that are drawn from real life? Regardless, will it be out of line for readers to speculate beyond that? I am especially curious about this series because I had a knock down drag out fight with Roberts some years ago over the author photo on her In Death series. One of the newer photos, showing Roberts in jeans, boots, and a long, black leather coat, looked to me like it was constructed to create an Eve-like image (I dislike the publicity practice of making authors look similar to their book’s protags, so I admit this is a hot spot for me). But she swore emphatically that there was no attempt to make any connection to Eve, that it wasn’t designed to make the reader think of Eve, and that she never intended any cross over of RL into her fiction. And now we have this series. It’s all very interesting and complicated.

    @Sunita and @etv13: I think the Peabody books work the other way around, actually. I cannot remember the book, but one of the AP books had the “editor” talking at the beginning of the book about genre fiction and the lack of respect for women writers, etc., and it was such an acute reflection of the issues that affect authors like Peters it actually pulled me out of the fictional construct rather than making it seem like the world of the book was more real. So for me it depends on the way the faux editorial/narrative function is employed.

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  107. Ridley
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:36:19

    @Holly: Well then, why keep pointing it out with a snicker? What’s your point? Why’s it relevant?

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  108. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 15:45:31

    @Holly: Obviously curiosity incited me to buy the book. Others will be turned off. I’m not trying to sell or not sell books with my post, actually.

    In regard to the thin skin issue, I don’t really think anyone can claim criticism doesn’t sting. Which is why I find Foster’s *extensive* comments (both from herself and from Molly) disingenuous. And I wonder why the hell she feels the need to say it over and over and over again, while she has a book out there that basically suggests that she’s not so immune. I mean, nobody’s going to think badly of her because she admits criticism hurts. It does! But the public denial brings me back to that issue of trust that @lazaraspaste talked about earlier. When you link your real life comments to your fictional work in such an overt way, and when that fictional work kind of undermines your public comments on the very same issue, it erodes more levels of trust than the one supporting that particular issue. And it doesn’t just erode trust for THAT particular author — it can create an environment of suspicion that affects other authors, and that’s what’s really problematic for me.

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  109. Holly
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 16:20:32

    @Robin/Janet:

    LOL Robin, I know you’re not yelling at me. You make a lot of valid points in your comments. I would think it would be more fun to write about someone who is total opposite to the author. I am not surprised she is addressing this on her FB page and perhaps on other internet avenues, because again, I think that is a marketing strategy. Or maybe I’m assuming.

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  110. Amber
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 17:07:00

    @Robin/Janet:

    I always assumed the different photos were originally an attempt to disguise the fact that JD Robb was also Nora Roberts. To make her look edgier for a different audience. But yes, they did make me think of Eve just a little bit.

    And you don’t need a lit crit degree to see the glaring parallels between author and book here. The only thing up for debate is whether it was an intentional jab or an attempt at “catharsis.” Either way it shows poor judgment.

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  111. Deb
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 18:12:33

    I read this book unaware of the history of the conflict of Ms. Foster’s previous book. The passages relating to “breaking the 4th wall”, were a distraction for me. I found the lengthy discussion patronizing in tone. The character was explaining the nature of unhappy readers, etc. to a former SF. What could have been dealt with in a few sentences, ran on way too long. It read as a lecture to a child in my opinion, rather than with an intelliegent, highly skilled character. I can certainly understand the question of whether the author inserted herself into the story a valid one.

    For someone who spends her am googling herself, why didn’t she simply take the time to explain to her readership, the departure in sub genre of the book causing the original stir? That is something Facebook would have handled very easily. She could have avoided all of the negativity and backlash with a brief discussion. That failure, is the author’s failure. 

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  112. etv13
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 19:01:20

    Robin/Janet @106: I wonder if that’s not a fairly idiosyncratic response to the machinery around the Peabody stories, though? It’s interesting that Peters added that machinery well into the series (now tell me it really shows up in the third or fourth book — at least I know it’s not in the first one!). I also think Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels is a good example of a writer whose political views add something valuable to her stories, rather than detract from them. There are strong feminist undertones in most, if not all, of her books — not just the Amelia Peabody ones, but also books like Stitches in Time, with their focus on women’s craftwork. Her views are well integrated into the stories and the characterizations, and she isn’t (usually) preachy about it, so for me, at least, it works.

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  113. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:24:27

    @Amber: What was ironic about the Robb pic was that the book on which it first appeared had Eve appear in her first scene in virtually the same outfit, lol. I don’t really think that was intentional, but it cracks me up a little every time I see a reader mention the pic as Eve-like. ;D

    As for the intention question in WYD, even the catharsis theory implies intention at the point of choosing the issues requiring catharsis. Whether or not the book was written with overt intention to be a lecture, I think the heroine’s issues have a clear and obvious provenance, and I just can’t see that as unconscious or coincidental.

    @etv13: I don’t remember the editorial fiction in the series appearing until maybe Ramses is an adult and his POV is introduced into the books through those faux manuscript fragments. I haven’t really decided how I feel about the device, although I agree with you that Peters does a great job of making whatever her views are merge pretty naturally with the text. Although that might in part be because Amelia and Emerson are sooooooooo opinionated. We expect it of them, and thus we are more likely to attribute strong views that might (or might not) be Peters’s to them. IMO, at least.

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  114. kiahzoe
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:30:04

    Robin/Janet said: I am especially curious about this series because I had a knock down drag out fight with Roberts some years ago over the author photo on her In Death series. One of the newer photos, showing Roberts in jeans, boots, and a long, black leather coat, looked to me like it was constructed to create an Eve-like image (I dislike the publicity practice of making authors look similar to their book’s protags, so I admit this is a hot spot for me). But she swore emphatically that there was no attempt to make any connection to Eve, that it wasn’t designed to make the reader think of Eve, and that she never intended any cross over of RL into her fiction.

    So funny you mention this because I had the exact same experience. I mean exactly. I don’t remember where I commented on how much the picture on the In Death cover resembled the description of what Eve wears, but I did post the comment. Robb/Roberts came down on me like a ton of bricks insisting that there was no such intention and how could anyone suggest such a thing, etc.

    The interesting thing for me was that I wasn’t necessarily criticizing the choice. I figured it was a marketing choice encouraged by the publisher/agent, whatever. I didn’t really care. I just thought it was interesting and readily apparent. She disagreed. Strongly.

    As regards LF, I think she did exactly what you’re saying she did. She used the book to get the last word in on the issue. Though she has toned it down in recent years, she has always been thin skinned and defensive when it comes to even the mildest of criticisms.

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  115. Kaetrin
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:37:21

    @ Robin/Janet – that’s funny about the JD Robb picture. When I first picked up Naked in Death, it actually took me a little while to work out it was a picture of the author – at first I thought it was a picture of the character! :)

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  116. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:39:51

    @kiahzoe: WOW, I did not know that had happened to anybody else! I did make it clear I wasn’t a fan of the practice but pointed out clearly I wasn’t criticizing Roberts and figured it was a marketing/promotional strategy to distinguish the books. It was a very, uh, interesting experience, especially since I refused to back down (dog meet bone). It was especially strange because I had read an article about how expansive and creative Roberts’s marketing team had been in promoting the Robb series. Why wouldn’t they do such a thing, especially when it’s not an uncommon practice? And I never understood the author’s resistance to the idea. Still don’t. At least I know I wasn’t the only one, lol.

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  117. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:41:00

    @Kaetrin: HAHAHAHA, better not say that too loudly. ;D

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  118. Linda Hilton
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:52:54

    Here’s the question that sticks with me after all this discussion and maybe it’s not even relevant at this point. Would it be likely that an author would write a novel woven warp and woof with a philosophy with which she had serious personal disagreement? Creating characters who held differing opinions, yes, but would you expect someone who was, say, adamantly opposed to clear cutting in national forests to write a novel in which that was the issue that prevailed triumphantly at the end? I think it’s unfair to criticize a work solely on the basis of the author’s position on any given issue, even one that may be taken as petty and spiteful. If Kathryn Stockett is to be criticized for the political/social stance she takes in “The Help,” then what about all the writers of Christian romances? If they get a free pass then so should Stockett and Peters/Mertz. That doesn’t mean every reader has to like those writers and their books, or read them, but it does mean the writers have a right to write them, to incorporate their belief system, their experience, their philosophy, their morality into their stories.

    It seems to me the issue here is that Foster has done it clumsily and then turned around and denied that she did it. Did she have the right to do it? Well, I guess so. Is it okay if some readers don’t “get” the lecture? Sure. Is it okay if some readers agree with her? Sure.

    I don’t think there’s a writer anywhere, any gender, any genre, who hasn’t written a little bit of herself into the story. I know I have, and more than just a little!

    Linda

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  119. Linda Hilton
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:56:59

    Just happened to think of this — Didn’t King’s “Misery” have a step-back or something done in romance novel style like by Pino or some such, with King in it? ETA — yes, the fictional “Misery Returns” http://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/misery_images.html

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  120. Janine
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 20:58:12

    @Robin/Janet:

    As for the intention question in WYD, even the catharsis theory implies intention at the point of choosing the issues requiring catharsis.

    I’m not sure I agree on the above since I think sometimes the germs of ideas for plots, stories and characters show up in the writer’s imagination without being consciously crafted. But whether or not Foster consciously chose the issues, she chose to write the story, and I think she must have known what the real life source of inspiration for that story was. Therefore I agree with your statement below:

    Whether or not the book was written with overt intention to be a lecture, I think the heroine’s issues have a clear and obvious provenance, and I just can’t see that as unconscious or coincidental.

    Yes. Years ago I took a writing workshop and one of the other writers there was working on a mystery. The first murder victim was the heroine’s boss, which the writer told us had some things in common with a difficult boss she herself had had who had let her go from her job. The writer channeled her feelings about him into her writing and found it cathartic to write about his death. If the catharsis theory is correct (and I don’t know if it is) then I think it’s quite likely that Foster has a similar awareness of the origin of her character’s stance on dissatisfied readers.

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  121. k reads
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 21:32:36

    Yowza. This thread is cooking along. It has almost doubled in size since I last checked it.

    Just wanted to say thanks to Sunita and Robin for the discussion (and everyone else), on how the term “breaking the fourth wall” is applied in literature. I still don’t think this book fits the bill but the thread has given me much to think about… so I got that going for me.

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  122. Amber
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 21:41:27

    Re: the Peabody editorial presence, it does show up quite early as an “editor’s note” in The Mummy Case. Also, Peters writes herself into the Vicky Bliss series’ final volume, the Laughter of Dead Kings. But it is done in a very tongue-in-cheek sort of way as a sort of Easter egg for those who have read both series.

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  123. Robin/Janet
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 22:31:58

    @Janine: I agree with you that there is a lot of unconscious stuff that makes its way into written work. This particular issue was just SO prominent in the book and took up so much narrative space I feel it would be insulting Foster to think she didn’t include it intentionally. I know that may sound ironic, since I’ve been criticizing the move, but there it is.

    @Amber: Oh, I didn’t remember that! I still have to read the Vicki Bliss books, but I’m still so in love with the AP series I’ve been putting it off for some reason. Maybe it’s similar to the way I can’t really read books under the Nora Roberts name b/c I don’t want to see other Roarkes and Eves in them.

    @Linda Hilton: I think it’s much more difficult to discern political or social views of an author from a work of fiction (not in all cases, but in many). I read some authors whose books seem to veer from what I’d term conservative to what I see as progressive, and who knows what the author’s personal perspective is — maybe both or neither?

    But I see that as a different issue than, say, the author using RL experience in a book in a ‘write what you know’ way. For example, I don’t expect authors who were, say, lawyers NOT to write lawyer protags. Although if I know the author’s professional background, I might set the bar higher for those characters. ;D I remember one book written by an author whose husband is supposedly a cop. The book, an RS, had some awful mistakes related to the law enforcement aspect of the plot, and b/c the author kind of advertised her husband’s background and his supposed vetting of her books, it probably made me judge the mistakes a bit more harshly. So the write what you know thing can definitely work both ways, lol. But I don’t expect authors to write stuff that’s totally unfamiliar or uncomfortable or against their own values, even if they should choose to do that.

    Without question, though, I think that when an author puts something out into the public realm *especially in her authorial persona* s/he has to know it can be a risk. What frustrated me so much about the Foster book was twofold: first that the RS aspect was so weak, making it feel like that was a mere shell for the muse/reader stuff. If that part had been really strong, I very well might have given the rest an eye-rolling pass. And second that I felt that by using something that was so publicly associated with the author’s own books, it blurred the boundary between book and author in a way that can negatively affect general application of the ‘you can’t judge an author by her books’ argument.

    When I first read a discussion about this book, I thought, ‘would an author really be so bold about blurring that boundary?’ — I mean it seemed to obviously problematic to me. Which is part of why I was so intrigued I had to buy and read the book. And the book went way beyond even what I had been led to expect, which raised a bunch of questions for me around why the hell anyone would think that was a good idea, *especially* when we have so many online debates about where the line between author and book should be.

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  124. Sunita
    Jul 20, 2011 @ 23:54:08

    @k reads: And thanks to you and @etv13: for asking the questions and pushing us on the answers. You reminded me of all the things I wish I understood better, and it was fun to dig around in unfamiliar archives.

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  125. Janine
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 00:05:03

    @Robin/Janet: Yeah, I agree with you. I just meant that I see a subtle difference between including an issue consciously and choosing the issue for catharsis. These are different steps in the creative process. It is obvious that Foster included the issue consciously — I don’t see how she could have failed to do so — but if it was cathartic to her, then that choice of catharsis might have more to do with her psychological makeup than with conscious choice. It is going ahead and writing the book, as well as publishing it, that is where conscious choice definitely comes in.

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  126. Robin/Janet
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 01:08:20

    @Janine: Ah, I see what you’re saying now and don’t think I’d disagree.

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  127. etv13
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 03:07:17

    Robin/Janet, Amber: My impression was the same as Robin/Janet’s — that the “editor” material starts appearing when Ramses is in his late teens, and I was joking when I said “tell me it shows up in the third or fourth book.” But then I went looking just now for the copyright dates of the second and third books in the series (because I remembered reading Crocodile on the Sandbank in high school, and thought I’d discovered Ellis Peters while tracking down a rumored Amelia Peabody sequel in college (and the copyright dates are consistent with that memory, thank god!) and found the “editorial” Foreword in The Mummy Case. Memory is a strange thing.

    I said in an earlier comment that Peters/Michaels lets her political views inform her fiction, and I’m not backing off that when I say that one of the things that makes that palatable and even admirable is that she lets her characters express and embody a variety of viewpoints. Emerson, for example, is an atheist, while Amelia is religious. I have this vague impression that he is more racially tolerant than she is, too — I thought I remembered that Amelia was originally opposed to her niece marrying David Todros, though going back through the books I can’t find the passages that support that impression, and maybe I’m just wrong. Anyway, to bring this back to the topic of the original post, obviously it is a mistake to assume that any given character’s views or opinions necessarily reflect those of the author, even if that character is the narrator/heroine. Amelia is a sufficiently unreliable narrator to teach that lesson all by herself. Yet while I certainly couldn’t tell you, on the evidence of her books, whether Peters is a Christian or an atheist (or a Buddhist or animist or something else altogether), I feel pretty confident saying she’s a feminist. Some things are part of the creation of a character — in the Peabody books, the difference between being an atheist and a Christian — and some things come right out of the author’s bedrock view of the way things just are, and are deeply embedded in the structure of the text. What kind of people the “bad guys” are, for example, seems to me to to be fairly likely to reflect the author’s own views, at least if you see the same kind of bad guys (Mexicans, African-Americans, homosexuals, sexists, racists) come up repeatedly. So when Foster makes the bad guys Latinos, or readers, I think that’s a choice you can attribute to the underlying character of the author, and not simply to the character of the characters themselves. And while I think it’s wrong (in the sense of “incorrect” or “inaccurate”) to criticize an author for the viewpoints of her characters, even her viewpoint chacters, there’s nothing at all wrong with criticizing an author for racist or sexist or homophobic views expressed in the structure of the text itself.

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  128. etv13
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 03:44:21

    @Robin/Janet 123: ‘you can’t judge an author by her books’ — if this just means “don’t attribute the views of the characters to the author”, then I am down with it, but if it means anything broader than that — why the hell not? If the author writes sloppy books, then I think it’s fair to conclude she’s a sloppy writer. She may be a great friend, or wife, or mother, but what’s that to me as a potential buyer/reader of her books? Conversely, I’ve had the experience, reading Updike, or Sherri Tepper, of being in the hands of a very fine writer, but a lousy thinker. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my concluding that their views, as expressed in their books, are pernicious and worthy of condemnation. Again, they might be great friends, spouses, parents, they may be wholly admirable in their personal lives, but when it comes to viewing them as authors of their books, we definitely should judge them by their books. What else would we judge them by?

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  129. Robin/Janet
    Jul 21, 2011 @ 12:27:20

    I said in an earlier comment that Peters/Michaels lets her political views inform her fiction, and I’m not backing off that when I say that one of the things that makes that palatable and even admirable is that she lets her characters express and embody a variety of viewpoints.

    Yes, this is very true. And I think it’s Walter and Evelyn who are opposed to the David/Lia pairing, although Amelia has a moment where she must confront her own unrealized prejudices. In fact, one of the reasons I like Amelia is that she’s very progressive in some ways and much more conservative in others. Ditto with Emerson. And I think they’re very convincing in their faceted constructions.

    If I had to infer Peters’s political position from her books, I’d guess she’s liberal and a feminist, a supposition which obviously reflects my own biases about progressive ideologies. ;P

    ‘you can’t judge an author by her books’ — if this just means “don’t attribute the views of the characters to the author”, then I am down with it, but if it means anything broader than that — why the hell not? If the author writes sloppy books, then I think it’s fair to conclude she’s a sloppy writer. She may be a great friend, or wife, or mother, but what’s that to me as a potential buyer/reader of her books?

    I probably should have said, ‘don’t judge an author personally by her fiction,’ which is basically what I was trying to get at, since I agree with what you’re saying about judging authorial voice by the fiction. One thing about those judgments, too, is that they can change from book to book. One book may seem the product of a not-so-thoughtful or problematic authorial voice, while another by the same author may strike the reader as incredibly well-crafted and nuanced.

    I do think, though, that these judgments will feel personal to some authors, because they may have such a personal investment in their work. I’m not sure there’s a way around that, although I don’t think it means readers should feel constrained in commenting on and evaluating those things.

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  130. The downside of reader investment in characters | VacuousMinx
    Jul 25, 2011 @ 10:54:26

    [...] relationship between romance authors and their readers comes up all the time in online discussions. Robin’s excellent review-rant last week and the great discussion that followed touched on a lot of these points, and I’ll have more [...]

  131. SN
    Jul 27, 2011 @ 07:34:24

    Okay, nobody will probably see this now, but here’s some proof she’s basing it on herself:

    http://romance-author-buzz.blogspot.com/2011/05/meet-lori-foster-and-giveaway-us.html

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  132. Robin/Janet
    Jul 27, 2011 @ 10:59:30

    @SN: Holy smokes, I wish I’d seen that earlier!

    The whole interview demonstrates a cross-over, but this, THIS, is what I’ve been talking about:

    What attributes do you share with Dare and Molly? Of course, Molly is a successful writer, so you have that in common. Anything else?

    Molly actually came about because of some reader mail I’d gotten—threatening me. I know readers get very invested in stories, and I’m thrilled that they care so much. Occasionally they write me with their frustrations over something that didn’t go quite how they wanted it to, or because they want a character to have a book, but I don’t have a book for that character. That’s fine—I enjoy hearing from them. But threats? Well, I’ve had a few that crossed the line. That’s not the typical reader, and it can be worrisome.

    After one particular threat, the idea for Molly and the elements of the storyline dealing with one of her readers as a suspect took shape in my mind.

    I love hearing from readers, whether they liked a book or not. But, just like Molly, I think my privacy is important, too.

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  133. KMont
    Jul 27, 2011 @ 11:10:18

    Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but if she values her privacy so much, why did she use said privacy as the focus of a published book?

    BTW, so late to the party, but I’ve really enjoyed this review and subsequent comment thread.

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  134. Lurv Looks Back: July 2011 | Lurv a la Mode
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 07:15:39

    [...] Dear Author this month, I was just fascinated by this post from Robin, aka, Janet, on a term called The Fourth Wall, and how she felt author Lori Foster broke it with her latest romance release. Also interesting to [...]

  135. Author. Authorial persona. Book. It’s getting harder to tell them apart. - Dear Author
    Sep 30, 2011 @ 09:40:04

    [...] post on authorial intrusion into the text generated a very lively discussion. I was a little surprised, though, that one point of [...]

  136. Thursday Midday Links: Bad IP Suits and Good Deals | Dear Author
    Dec 22, 2011 @ 12:33:14

    [...] by the word rape. It’s a muddle. Further, Cast is using Aphrodite as a mouthpiece, thus breaking the fourth wall, and now anyone who reads her and knows this can equate Aphrodite’s words and actions to [...]

  137. The Reader Author Paradigm | Dear Author
    Jan 10, 2012 @ 08:24:08

    [...] and other review sites.  The Author can also write negatively about reviewers in her books as Lori Foster and Victoria [...]

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