SHERRIE, OBIE AND ROBERT FROST
The reviews I’ve received for Eyewall have been overwhelmingly positive. I few have been disparaging. But that’s okay. Everyone has different tastes in literature and everyone uses different criteria for judging books.
Several reviewers commented that they found a particular scene in the book totally unbelievable and gratuitous. In the scene–SPOILER ALERT!–a female character, Sherrie, decides to use sex to deter one of the protagonists, Obie, from diving into a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, an “old friend” which in the past he’s found efficient at numbing emotional pain. It also destroyed his marriage.
I won’t defend the scene because I realize that won’t change how anyone views it. As a reader, you either buy into it or you don’t. It’s pointless for a writer to attempt to defend what he or she has written, since the battle has already been lost. That’s because, in the end, all that matters is how the reader interprets what you’ve written, not what your intentions were.
So I won’t bother to mount a counterattack for the Sherrie-Obie incident. But I thought you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at how it came about.
Sherrie was never envisioned as a main character in Eyewall. She wasn’t in the story outline and wasn’t meant to have more than a walk-on role as a stereotypical blonde bimbo off of whom the outspoken Obie could bounce a few one-line zingers.
But as I wrote the scene in which she first meets Obie, the initial words out of her mouth surprised me. They seemed really clever and I thought: I like her, I gotta keep her in the story. So instead of a blonde bimbo she became an Ivy-league educated meteorologist and ally of Obie’s.
The scene where she disrobes was also a total surprise to me. I know that sounds weird if you aren’t a writer, but it happens all the time. Robert Frost, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, was aware of it. He said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” It’s one of the joys of being a novelist. Although I know where I’m going with my tale in a broad or strategic sense, I don’t know exactly how I’m going to get there. That’s why I can’t wait to sit down at the keyboard each morning. I wonder what’s going to happen today.
I seem to recall my initial draft of the Sherrie-Obie scene was a rather bland take on how people might really interact in such a situation. I think I had Sherrie trying to talk Obie out of popping that first shot. I hated it. It was boring. Then, bang. There it was. A classic bolt out of the blue. Sherrie decides to use sex to distract Obie from a return to Demon Rum, or in this case, Tennessee sour mash. Crazy. Off the wall. Real people don’t do that. But real people don’t populate novels.
I was stunned by what Sherrie did, mainly because it was totally “unscripted.” Ol’ Bobby Frost was right.
Obviously, the scene didn’t work for everyone. But as I said, that’s okay. It worked for me.
And I’ll always wonder, Would Sherrie have followed through with her seduction if Obie’s phone hadn’t rung?
-August 2, 2011-
I reviewed the book…but didn't comment on that scene. It was a small scene in the midst of a lot of powerful ones so it really didn't hinder my enjoyment of the book. Would she have carried it out? No. I have a feeling I know exactly what would have happened – An emotional breakdown, complete with tears and a big revelation about Sherrie's character as to WHY she would do such a thing.
Was it realistic? As a younger woman, would I have done this? No. Absolutely not. Would I like a woman who did such things? No. As a woman, I'd have a few choice names for women like that – "desperate" being one of the kinder ones. Would a man love reading this? Of couse, even though he wouldn't be fooled into believing it was reality either. Real women do such things out of emotion and usually not all in one day of interaction. Time really is everything. She has to care about his lean towards alcoholism and one day of closer interaction isn't enough to do this.
I might have believed it more had she not gone back to his house immediately or if she had witnessed more of Obie's drinking episodes where she tells him he really shouldn't turn to the bottle…and then BAM! Drop Sherrie coming out nude to distract him…have him being the good guy who rejects her advances, and have her break down crying and explain to him that her father was an alcoholic and it destroyed her family, maybe his own revelation about how he was responsible for destroying his own – then you have believability. There has to be a reason behind the motivation for something so out of the ordinary. That's character development – explaining why ordinary people sometimes do extraordinary things and having the reader really buy it.
If that had happened, Sherrie instantly becomes sympathetic to the reader, female or male, and Obie makes both sexes think he's a noble character. After that, the characters have an emotional bond and anything could happen, just like a real relationship. Men can charge into sex…for women, it's something they only do so quickly if there is an emotional breakdown somewhere in there. The tip of the iceberg was there. Women instantly know something is up with this girl. She's a little "off" and a female reader might become distracted until they find out what her deal is. In the end, Obie still came out the good guy. If he had gone through with it, you would have lots of angry female readers because we know something more is going on with Sherrie. My gender has everything to do with why I couldn't fully believe that scene. My compassion is why it wasn't a big enough deal to ruin the book (that girl ain't right!). Just giving my honest take on why a woman might not buy this so you don't take others' comments to heart. It's not in the writing, but a hidden part of the female psyche. It's not you, it's us. Really.
What I was really, really impressed with was that you were able to add technical knowledge seamlessly into the book – an admirable skill. Even Tom Clancy fails miserably when he tries to do this (don't get me started on Tom Clancy's female characters and reality *shudder*). However, you inserted meteorological learning into a novel without screaming, "You are learning, right now! Listen to how smart I, the author, am…I am dazzling you with my technical skills. You are eating it up!" There was a scene in a Tom Clancy book where he painfully detailed each step of making a silencer for his gun. I wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was boring and show-offish. When you insert some technical knowledge the average person doesn't know, it was done so seamlessly that I put the book down thinking that I had actually gained something from reading it other than being highly entertained for a few days.
Overall, I really thought it was excellent. I had to laugh at the bad reviews for "language" – Have these people never read anything from modern day literature? A character who curses unnecessarily sounds ridiculous, of course, and maybe it's a military thing, but I've been around it and I'm used to it I guess. Currently having a potential Cat 4 equivalent system breathing down my neck, right now, re-reading 'Eyewall' might just make for a good indoor activity for a few days. Call it atmospheric reading. : )