After a wave of (in my opinion) rather toxic user reviews on the Goodreads site, which I’ll get to in a bit, We’re Both Straight, Right? received a B+ at Brief Encounters! You can read the entire review here.
So, what do I mean by “toxic” reviews? Well, I certainly don’t mean that people aren’t entitled to dislike my story. The first couple bad reviews I got, I just shrugged off. But then someone posted a review that used the word “coerced.” She disliked the story, she said, because Larry was coercing Zack into these sex games. Then later, Zack and Larry allow the porno director to coerce them into doing things and she found that to be “sick.”
This was upsetting. But clearly this reviewer just didn’t “get” the story. I don’t generally believe in engaging people who dislike your stories (or films), but this review seems to be having an impact on reader perception of the story. Since she posted it, three or four other readers have mentioned the same reason for disliking the story, whereas the reviews had never mentioned that point at all in the first two weeks that the story was out there. It really upsets me to think that some people may be forming a negative opinion of the story before reading it.
So, even though this is just going out to the people who read my blog, I feel that I should at least address the issue of character motivation in the story. At least, as I see it.
WARNING: If you haven’t already read We’re Both Straight, Right?, there might be some spoilers below. I tried not to give too much away.
At no point is Larry coercing Zack into anything. He states quite clearly what he wants and that Zack doesn’t have to go along with it — but he wishes Zack would. That’s not coercion, in my book. That’s laying it all out on the table. If Zack feels guilty and goes along with it because of that, as the reviewer seemed to be implying, well then, he’s being foolish. But he’s not being coerced. Are friends never allowed to tell each other that they would like to have sex? Becuase I can’t really conceive of a way of doing that without the possibility of someone feeling guilty, if they reject the advance.
The other implication here is that Larry knows that he’s making Zack feel guilty, and is using that to manipulate him. This is simply incorrect. Larry is socially inept and not really capable of manipulating anybody. Self-centered, perhaps, but not manipulative. He’s basically a big dumb ox — a bit on the crude side, but incredibly loyal and devoted to his best friend. I knew he would be a bit of a hard sell, when I wrote the novella. Some of us love guys like that; some of us don’t. But the one thing he is not, is conniving and manipulative.
As far as the porno director goes, he lays it out when they arrive, telling them what sex acts he’s paying them for. When Zack realizes that there was some miscommunication and they won’t get all of the money without going “all the way,” well, that’s not coercion, either. That’s negotiation. He has the option to just take the pay for the sex acts he’s comfortable with, or push himself a little further to get all of the money. It’s his decision, and nobody is forcing him to do anything.
I worked very hard to have my characters communicating throughout the story, rather than rely on misunderstandings for comedy, as so many bad sitcoms and films do. When Zack and Larry get angry with each other on occasion, they may brood for a while, but then they talk about what’s bothering them and try to find a solution they can both be happy with.
To my mind, that makes them good for each other.