16 January 2012

Dealing with the "Mom" Review

It was not actually supposed to happen. Not in this lifetime, anyway.

My mother read my book!

Freshly out in the marketplace, my novel AFTER ILIUM (Fantasy Island Book Publishing, 2011) was always intended for an audience of everyone older than 16 and not my parents.

I'm no prude, but my novels deal with realistic, believable situations (yes, sci-fi included!) where characters act in rational or believably irrational ways when dealing with the situations in which they find themselves. That does mean sex and violence happen.

That does not mean "They kissed and the next morning he got out of bed and left her." Or "He threw a punch and missed."

Rather than go full porno ("erotica" to those gentler souls), I had the sex scenes told through the Point of View of the naive young man who experiences it. Needless to say, Alex has a romanticized lens through which to have his first experience with a woman, the older and exotic Elena, who he meets on the way to the ruins of ancient Ilium.

And the story features brutality on both sides: fighting, maiming, killing, and a sexual assault. People are hurt, some die, some survive but in a lesser form. What I attempted to conjure was hardcore reality--yet what would be believable for the characters and situations presented. Fortunately, our hero is not party to such violence--until later, that is, when he thinks he's killed someone.

Given this kind of story (young man meets older woman, has affair, gets into trouble, struggles to make his way back), I advised my parents that it was not suitable fare for them.

As former teachers, my father is an avid reader of history, politics, biography while my mother reads romance and Christian how-to books. I thought I was in the clear because my book was not among their usual genres. (My father, once upon a time when I was a young writer, stated firmly that he did not read fiction because it was not true; why read something that's fake?) I cautioned my mother that she would not be well-served by pushing my novel to her church friends. She should simply be happy for me for finally getting one of my "hobbies" published. I thought that was the end of it.

But no! Through the wonders of technology, a neighbor of my parents (who are deep into retirement) had a Kindle. They downloaded my ebook. Then the unthinkable happened: they lent the Kindle (with enovel on board) to my mother! Less than 24 hours later I received a phone call. It was time for The Mom Review.

I prepared for a grilling, as though I were still 9 or so and had been caught being mischievous. Actually, I had been mischievous--in my writing.

Rather than a verbal assault for the inappropriate content I'd written, my mother began with a list of items she thought needed to be fixed. No typos, thanks to my intense proofreading, but a few curious sentence constructions nevertheless. She pointed out grammar errors in the speeches of the Greek woman who is speaking English imperfectly. She questioned whether or not my use of Turkish phrases were correct. She asked about particular plot points, not understanding some of them. She compared the Iliad she had learned in school long ago (not as far back as Homer, however) with my version, as though there were more than one. I dared quote chapter and verse to back up my case.

And then came...the delicate parts!

In the scene where young Alex Parris is making love with the seductive Elena for the first time, the word "sailing" does indeed set up a metaphorical description of what happens. No body parts are mentioned. Everything is couched in nautical terms, to whit: She guided him on a tour of her body, and he was willing to explore each port of entry, languishing there until she called him to continue sailing her fragrant seas. You get the idea. I quickly deflected further discussion of the scene and allowed my mother to move on to her next area of concern.

We've become accustomed to violence, more so than sex, it seems. ("I don't mind blowing men's heads off in a war movie but I'll not sit still for bare tits on the screen!" I've heard before.) So there were few objections to the fight scenes. I was afraid she'd ask something about the sexual assault, but she passed it by. Too awkward, perhaps. Instead, she wanted to know the fate of Benson, the victim of the assault. I directed her to the page where that information could be found. [Nope, you ain't getting a spoiler here.]

Once through her list of concerns, I got the final assessment. Try to hear her voice in the way I've written it: "It was...um, g-good." I wondered at that moment how many stars I'd be getting. And then, leaving me in dismay, she added: "I think it's all right for [her church friends]." I suppose that's some kind of assessment, right? Kind of a "not as bad as I expected" review. Thanks, Mom! 

Dare she pass it on to my father now? If she does, there goes my inheritance. I wonder how to explain to any family member why I would write such sick, twisted scenes in my novels. What kind of person am I? They would no doubt be thinking: "Did we ever really know Stephen?"

How have my fellow writers dealt with their own "Mom" and "Dad" reviews? 

[I should point out--because they'll never read my blog!--that poor Alex's parents are modeled after my own, but, ironically, my mother only asked if Alex's father was supposed to be my father. She never asked about Alex's too doting mother. Hmmm. We write what we know....]

(C) Copyright 2010-2011 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. Okay, you have had me laughing all afternoon. I could actually see this conversation unfolding. You, looking like a 12th grader, caught writing dirty limericks, and your mother trying to get to the point with out destroying your obvious pride in your work.

    You crack me up.

  2. My stepmum read Emeline, I could deal with that....then my dad read it, and all I could think about was the ONE frantic, one night stand sex scene that occured on just one of the pages......it STILL creeps me out that dad has read that :-/

  3. I have a detailed rape scene in one of my books and I am so glad that my mom has never read it. Thanks for the laugh!! Hopefully she doesn't lend it to your dad.

  4. I'm so glad you blogged about this. In my opinion parent's should never read their offspring's books. My mother was very concerned about my failure to "fully develop the mother character" in Losing Beauty. My dad now has more proof (besides my two kids) that I've had sex and can describe it! So painful, so awkward!

  5. I seem to have hit a nerve! Thank you for sharing your experiences and, if you have not yet, good luck with your next Mom or Dad review.