WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE! (Seriously…if you haven’t read Waiting For Spring yet and don’t want to be spoiled – and I hope that you don’t – go do something else and save this post for when you’ve finished the book. There’s a good reader.)
When I get negative comments and/or reviews about Waiting For Spring, the criticism usually falls into one of two categories: Number 1, too much harsh language. Number 2, too much sex. Some people, that’s just not their thing, and no amount of reasoning from me, or anyone else, about context and realism is going to change their minds. I’m cool with that. I understand it. Not everyone likes the same thing, the world would be a boring place if we did, etc. Turn the page on a brand new day.
And then there’s the third most common complaint I get. It’s one I’ve yet to see in a public review (I’m sure the day is coming), although I’ve received over a dozen emails about it. Yep…it’s Rachel’s abortion.
As those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know, I’ve addressed this issue before when a reader complained that I was pushing a pro-choice agenda in writing and publishing my book. I’ll restate now what I said then:
I hate it when an author uses their characters and fictional world as a thinly disguised soapbox. When I encounter that sort of thing in a novel, I immediately throw it down in disgust, because I don’t like being manipulated. And I shuddered to think that’s what someone thought I’d been trying to do to them.
The truth is that, although I do have strong personal opinions about this issue, Waiting For Spring wasn’t written to give voice to them. It isn’t meant to be pro-choice. It isn’t meant to be pro-life. It isn’t meant to be pro-any political issue. It’s honest to goodness slice of life reading, with all of life’s beauty and horror and joy and pain. It’s about confronting and dealing with life’s shit head on, before you get buried in it. It’s about what happens when you don’t do that.
Since that post, I’ve received other emails about the issue, mostly along the same lines. One lady even prophesied that an eternity of hell’s raging fires awaited me, which got my attention. (Mostly because my hair frizzes something fierce in the heat.) This time, however, it’s an email I got from someone on the other side of the issue that is prompting me to address this subject…and here I feel compelled to warn you that this is where the spoilers begin. There’s simply no way of talking about this without the spoilers. The point of no return is beyond the dotted line.
This time it’s an email I got from someone on the other side of the issue that is prompting me to address this subject again. It was from a pro-choice advocate who felt that Rachel’s murder represented a sort of Divine Retribution for having gotten an abortion. I know it’s true that, regardless of what an author’s intentions are, we can’t control what readers bring with them when they read our words. A thousand people could read my novel and walk away with a thousand different interpretations of what it’s about and, to be honest, I like that. But this particular interpretation…well, I’ll admit it. It shook me up. Then it pissed me off. Then I cried a little (shut up…even hard-bitten women like me shed a tear or two every so often), because the concept was absolutely abhorrent to me. And I don’t like being thought of as someone who would do an absolutely abhorrent thing.
THE CASE FOR THE DEFENSE
Finally, I talked it over with a trusted friend. Her response was, “It’s not something that even occurred to me when reading it in your book, but I can see how a discussion group might come up with something like that. It’s so easy for readers to attach symbolism and meaning where the author never meant it to be.” Of course, she’s right. I’ve been guilty of the same thing myself. (You don’t even want to be at my family’s get-togethers when the subject of anti-feminist issues in Twilight come up. No sir.) So, in case there are others out there who may have gotten the same impression, I’m going to address why Rachel’s murder DOES NOT represent Divine Retribution, using the context of the novel – rather than my “but that’s not what I MEANT to say” objections – as proof.
1. Tim is such an obvious asshole villain…almost two-dimensionally villainous. Seriously, weren’t you just aching for Tess to blow him away herself? (I know I was, but it didn’t serve the interests of the story, and The Interests Of The Story come before anything else.) Why would I cast such a despicable, disgusting character in the role of Divine Executioner, if indeed I felt Retribution was called for? Tess, as the protagonist, represents the closest thing to a ‘Divine Voice’ in the novel. She not only provides Rachel’s transportation for the procedure, she accompanies her into the actual room and holds her hand while it’s happening. And in spite of her own very strong misgivings – and subsequent feelings of guilt – Tess comes to this conclusion:
I leaned closer and whispered in her ear. “It’s alright. You’re doing the right thing.” I said it even though it wasn’t alright. Not yet. But it would be Someday. I’d make sure of it. And I said it because it was the right thing. For her.
2. Tim himself was killed for bringing about Rachel’s murder. He was killed rather brutally, in fact. ([plug] You’ll get to witness that in the new book. [/plug]) If anything, that was eye-for-an-eye Divine Retribution. The act even brought about a redemption (of sorts) for an otherwise unsympathetic character (which served The Interests Of The Story with a side order of Hell Yes!).
3. If it could be said that Rachel shouldered any responsibility in her own death, it would not be because she had an abortion. It would be because she couldn’t kick her drug habit, and she turned to Tim when she was hard up. She was desperate enough that she did this even though she knew what would probably happen…but that’s another psychological sideroad altogether.
4. In Tim’s mind, Rachel’s pregnancy (and eventual motherhood) was a means for him to have a lasting sense of control over her…period. I used his continued abusive presence in his ex-wife and daughter’s lives to illustrate that. To him, the abortion wasn’t a moral wrong to be righted. It represented a usurping of his power in her life.
WHY USE IT?
I’ll say it again: I didn’t insert abortion into the novel with the intention of sending a pro-choice or pro-life message. So why include it at all? Answer: Purely as a literary tool. Tess suffers from almost overwhelming feelings of worthlessness. Most of that is a direct result of being unloved – even hated – by her mother. The most powerful way I could think of to express that was to have Tess’s mother let her know that she would have aborted her had the law allowed it. It was fitting in so many ways.
1. It’s a despicable thing to tell a child, and I wanted Tess’s mother to be pretty despicable.
2. It fit in with the soil/barrenness motif I had going.
3. It gave me an ostensible motive to give to Tim for killing Rachel. (See this post to learn why Rachel was always gonna die, regardless of how or why.)
Once I made that decision, I followed two well-established rules of writing by using abortion as a running theme.
1. If you introduce a gun in chapter one, you’d sure as hell better let the reader see the thing again before too long – the “gun” in this case, of course, being the subject of abortion.
2. Find your protagonist’s biggest fear or weakness and sock her in the face with it.
I will admit that once the issue of abortion was part of the mix, I made the conscious decision to challenge readers’ existing opinions about it…all readers, from BOTH sides of the issue. I consciously worked to challenge my own opinions, too. Ultimately, in spite of the Emails of Chastisement – actually, I think it would be more accurate to say because of those emails – I believe I succeeded. And that is something I’m very proud of.