The author, in and out of shadow

For the past two years, my favorite author, Orson Scott Card, has published a new book very close to my mid-January birthday. I’ve always anticipated his new books with glee. The new publishing dates had made it seem as though he was giving me a new book just for my birthday. It’s pretty much the best present ever.

Ender's Game

Really. Go read it. Right now.

Last year, about two weeks before my 27th birthday, Lost Gate was released. I tore through the book before the month closed. This year Shadows in Flight came out the day after my birthday. It is the newest, but not final, book in the Ender series. It falls on the “Shadow” side, following the lives of Bean and the other Battle School kids as they navigate the real world after the Buggers have been defeated. If you have no idea what I’m talking about go read Ender’s Game. I’ll wait.

Back?

Okay. After a few books about Bean, and Petra, that were at times a bit Tom Clancy-esque for my taste as far as science fiction is concerned, the Shadow series was laid to rest. Bean, and his young children, who were afflicted with his gigantism and huge capacity for intelligence, had been sent off into space to fly at near light speed while scientists on Earth tried to find a cure. The last book in the Shadow series, Shadow of the Giant, was published in 2005. It’s been a long wait.

When I got the book for my birthday after waiting for seven years I let it sit on the shelf until this week.

I wanted to read it. I wanted to know what happened to Bean and how his kids were surviving. I wanted to know if they made contact with the planet discovered in Children of the Mind. But I couldn’t pick up the book.

I had recently learned some not so nice things about my beloved Orson Scott Card that I didn’t want to know. And looking at his latest book on my shelf reminded me that this author and I differed on some serious issues.

If you Google “Orson Scott Card” (you don’t even have to finish typing his name) the seventh result includes the word homophobe. A friend had told me Card had made disparaging comments about homosexuality. Was my favorite childhood author really someone whose opinions would disgust me?

Now, I’m not here to discuss politics or rights or religion. Suffice it to say, I think very differently than Card. But would it stop me from reading his book?

I was torn. To be honest, I still am. By purchasing his book, which I did, I was giving him money. Money he can use in any manner he likes. Am I encouraging his opinions by adding to his book sales? No. Am I sending him a message by not buying the book? No. If I want him to know that I disagree, I can write him an email. He is very responsive to his fans. His website (hatrack.com) has helpful information for writers and readers. He writes about punctuation and writing formats. He discusses how much he reached out to his reading community to write the Shadow series because, even though he wrote Ender’s Game, he realizes that his fans are his single best resource for obsessive levels of detail about the plot and characters.

The man hosts a writing workshop in North Carolina each summer and gives one-on-one help to people trying to break into the writing world. I’m sure he would get my message.

The problem with writing to him is that I wouldn’t know what to say. I know what his seventh Google result is because I counted the list. I didn’t click on any of the links. I still want to hide my head in the sand.

I think I’ve divided him into two men: the writer and the person. I can read his books and love them without loving him. I can separate the work from the writer.

I know this is hiding. But the book was good. It was short, and the next one, Shadows Alive, doesn’t have a publication date but it should be more of a full-length novel, and I know a lot of what was going to happen. Shadows in Flight sets up some new characters for the next book and reveals more about Bean. It took me less than a day to read and I’m not sure why it was seven years in the making. I know the man writes a lot so I’ll try not to fault him there.

I feel guilty about not faulting him in other ways. Have I abandoned my convictions? Not knowing exactly what he said or believes doesn’t excuse me. I should find out. But, I really don’t want to break this fragile bond. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but his books have had a great impact on my life. If his convictions are the foundation of his writing and that foundation doesn’t hold up for me, where am I left? I don’t research other writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. I don’t judge other kinds of artists by their left- or right-wing politics.

But here the door has already been propped open. I know enough to know that I don’t want to know more. Unfortunately I can’t close that door. Maybe someday I’ll read his comments and let him know that while I am a fan of his work, I disagree with many of the things he holds dear. I doubt I’ll change his mind; he wouldn’t be able to change mine. But right now I want to believe that he is reasonable and fair-minded. Really, I want to believe that he’ll care about my opinion. That it would affect him as much as his opinion affects me.

Until then I’ll wait for a publication date for Shadows Alive and slowly open the door further to see if what’s on the other side is too blinding to be left alone.

Kelly Hannon works in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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Comments
5 Responses to “The author, in and out of shadow”
  1. enid64 says:

    I’m a bookseller and when I meet authors who are rude I find, unless they’re fantastic writers who can make me forget I’m reading a book, I can never enjoy their work in quite the same way again. There have been a few authors who have shocked me so much with their rudeness (inc homophobic/racist comments) that I will no longer recommend their books to customers. (In the interest of maintaining some amount of professionalism I will never actively discourage someone from buying their books, I just will not guide people to them unprompted).

    • Kelly Hannon says:

      I completely agree about nice or rude authors I’ve met in person. I will recommend a book I haven’t read if the author was kind and gave a great reading.

  2. I too have the same issues frequently when it comes to comic book writers. If I read an interview where extreme politics are involved (those with which I disagree, of course) or hear writers tell tales out of school to finger point or evoke sympathy, I tend to shut down on them.

    It’s both a shame and a blessing that the line between the work and the worker, so to speak, is frequently so blurry in art and literature. H.P. Lovecraft challenges many of his fans with the same dilemma, given his attitudes on race. For every instance where an author’s background enriches the reading of a seminal work, you’ll come across something distasteful that may have the opposite effect.

    • Kelly Hannon says:

      I didn’t know Lovecraft was racist. It makes me not want to know anything about an author, which can really take away from their work sometimes. It’s almost easier to treat the book as its own entity.

  3. Gavin Craig says:

    I’m with you that while it’s not fair to ask an author to be “perfect” — particularly an author who lived in a different time and place — there’s a real uncertainty in buying the work of a writer who advocates for and may financially support causes that one finds morally objectionable. It’s easy with a dead writer, when you can discharge your responsibility by voicing your objection.

    I don’t think there is an easy answer. I don’t think we’re obligated to shun the work of people with different (or even abhorrent) political views — in fact, I think we all lose if we never encounter divergent views, but I might be a bit more likely to check out such an author’s book from the library rather than buying a hardcover.

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