An artist should never respond to criticism. It does no good at all, and can result only in a portion of one's audience seeing a side that isn't attractive.
And yet, here's where I try to justify myself to a very small group who have made what they consider to be legitimate points about a book that was recently published called THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. It just so happens that I'm listed as one of the authors of that book. Or both, depending on how you count.
Luckily, I don't consider myself an artist, so maybe I'm not as stupid as I seem.
Here's the thing: I completely recognize and endorse the right of anyone to express an opinion about, well, anything, most certainly including the things I write. If you think something published under either of my names was unmitigated crap, that's your opinion and you may shout it from the rooftops if that's your inclination. I never argue with people who dislike my books.
I personally can't stand a lot of pieces of pop culture that many--if not most--people consider to be essential classics. I've mentioned my complete contempt for The Wizard of Oz. I'm not crazy about A Confederacy of Dunces and have never finished reading it. Never got past page 2 of Ulysses. I think Stairway to Heaven is an overblown piece of self-indulgence that should shut up about halfway through.
That's my opinion. Yours may vary.
But some recent criticisms of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD hit a little too close to home for me, and I feel some explanation, if not refutation, is in order.
The idea is something along these lines: The book, which launches a new series, concerns itself with Samuel Hoenig, who tells you his story through first-person narration. Samuel happens to have Asperger's Syndrome, and in the course of the story, he uses some facets of that condition to help answer a very puzzling question or two which form the mystery plot in the book.
A few readers, particularly those who also have Asperger's, have objected, saying they are tired of seeing those with autism or a related disorder portrayed as "superhuman savants" who can use their inexplicable gifts to perform any seemingly impossible task.
And I agree. I, too, am weary of that portrayal, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to write in the voice of a character on the spectrum.
Where we disagree is in the usage here. I do not see Samuel as any kind of savant. Because he has Asperger's, and particularly because he was diagnosed in his teens and did not have the kind of early intervention a child diagnosed now might get, he relies on the social skills training he's gotten to get him through the difficult situations someone with that kind of disorder (although Samuel considers it a personality trait and not a disorder) faces every day.
Yes, he might seem especially observant. That's because he has had to overcome his tendency to not be observant at all. Indeed, he knows a good deal of information on a variety of topics, because he has had a number of "special interests" in his life and his favorite form of recreation is to research obscure subjects on the Internet.
I do not want to leave readers with the impression that Samuel is a superhero. In fact, I'd prefer they see that dealing with everyday life is more difficult for him than most others, not less so. If people are getting the impression that he's a savant, that he has extraordinary abilities, I have not done my job as well as I'd hoped, and for that I am sorry.
But I don't think that's the impression the book gives, so I'm offering this explanation.
Of course, you might not agree with me at all. That's okay. What I ask is that you read the book and form your own point of view on the subject. Maybe you'll agree with me. Maybe you won't.
That's what makes it interesting, no?