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-