"Sexual Innuendos," Reader Mail and the Power of Words

by
Charles Martin

I enjoy reading most of my ‘fan-mail.’  Readers checking in and saying they enjoyed my books. etc.  But last week I received two regarding ‘Thunder and Rain’ that were uncharacteristically critical.  Even angry.  I stared over my coffee mug and scratched my head.  Sure, I’ve received mail like this before, even worse, but something about these two notes struck me.  Stuck with me.  The accusations had a different tone.  So, a few days later, I did something I’ve never done.  I responded.  The exchange occurs below.  The first two emails are from readers.  My letter follows.

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Email #1:  “I have followed and read all your books. So when I heard "Thunder and Rain", your newest book, was coming out, I couldn't wait to read it.  I must say, I am extremely disappointed.  In fact, although I paid $17.00 for this book, I will not be passing it on for others to read.  The sexual content of this book is not for Christian readers, or maybe you are reaching out to the world?  Sorry, if I want to read 'garbage', I can go to the local library.  I really thought you were different.  Even Mary Higgins Clark writes a great book with out sex and she SELLS.”

Email #2: “...You hooked me right from the start and I was prepared for another great story but I was disappointed.   You moved into more sexual enuendo  and some outright sexual episodes and I am not talking about the sexual abuse-that you dealt with very well.  I really don't think talking about a women taking off her lacey panties and shirt  in the presence of a man that is not her husband is a picture that I want on the stage of my mind.  I can't imagine your wife showing your 10 year old child her sexy nighties meant only for your time together as husband and wife...”

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My response:

Dear ----

Email like yours is never fun and most of the time I don’t respond because it serves little to no purpose, but I read yours, can tell that you’ve invested emotionally in my stories and I  wondered if I owed you a response.

In that vein...let me (please) stay away from a line by line defense of anything I’ve written and just say this -- the discomfort your feel as Sam tries in every way she knows how to appeal to Ty is purposeful on my part.  You’re right, portions of her approach to Ty are strongly sexual. Between the lace, the body language, the verbal language, the lighting...it definitely paints a strong picture.  In writing them, I thought about making it less visual, less ‘graphic,’ but every time I did, I felt like it lost something because, what I as the writer was going for was not the sexual titillation of the moment (Not 50 Shades of Gray), but trying to create an experience that would be very difficult to turn from.  Your reaction tells me I created that situation.  Don’t hear me saying that I’m right and you’re wrong.  I’m not.  I thought a good bit about it when I wrote it and have since.  Would I write it differently now?  After months to think about it, I don’t think so.  What was important to me was Ty’s response-- or lack thereof.  I wanted to create a situation that most red-blooded men would have a difficult time turning from, and then watch as he turns from it.  By not responding how every other guy she’s ever known has responded, Ty (in my mind) clothes her with dignity.  Integrity.  WIth honor.  Something she’s not been clothed with in a long while.  I think we see the fruit of that in her life and in Hope’s letters. Maybe in Brodie’s life, too.  That response is highlighted all the more if Sam is so strong in her advances.   My goal, or one of them, and the reason I did all this, was Tyler -- the man.  I wanted to show you what was at his heart. If he responds physically with Sam, he shows you one thing--and he’s not the man I made him out to be.  If he responds by not taking advantage of her physically, then he’s shown something else about himself. About his heart.  Something I admire a great deal.  Something my 15 year old son admires.  While I’ve heard from readers such as yourself about Sam’s undressing, I’ve also heard from others about Ty’s response.  About his treatment of her.  And how it was a right response.  And for that I’m grateful --that’s what I was aiming for.

I don’t know if this makes sense or makes you even more angry.  That’s not my intent either.  I’m sorry if you felt duped by my story.  That I’d somehow changed.  Lord, let it not be so.   One of these days I’ll stand before the Lord and He’ll open my books -- hold me accountable.  When he does that, if he judges me for Sam’s advances, you’re welcome to say “I told you so.”  At which point, I’ll tell Him, you and everybody else, ‘I’m really sorry.  Forgive me.  I just flat out missed that one but I see it now.”  If he says, “Wow, that Tyler is my kind of guy.  Parts of his heart sort of reminds me of...me.” I hope you’ll give my book another chance.

Blessings on you,

Charles

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Final thoughts:

I really do wrestle with the words in my stories.  All of them.  What they say, how they say what they say, the pictures they paint -- all of that is on my mind -- my heart -- at least as much as I’m able to grasp it.  It’s all a part of my process.  I’m not oblivious.  Hard-headed?  I have my moments.  Ask Christy.  Oblivious?  I don’t think so -- at least not when it comes to these keys and the words they form when punched.  I’m not just slinging paint.  Words -- yours and mine -- carry inherent in their DNA the power of life and death.  To build up and tear down.  To cut us to our core and loose the shackles.  Stories multiply that power exponentially.  And, in my opinion, “Thunder and Rain” does that as well as any story I’ver ever written.

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