In Defense of Creativity

It wasn’t all that long ago when I was going through a dry spell trying to find a good read. I had been reading some entertaining books, but nothing that reached out through the pages, grabbed me by the collar, and said “I’m about to change your life!” You know that feeling, right? There’s a world of difference between simply reading a good book and reading a book that reminds us why we love to read in the first place. It can be sad sometimes, searching endlessly for that next book capable of unlocking that special euphoria.

For me, I’d finally found it when I stumbled across a book called Women and Other Monsters. Those of you that read my blog regularly or follow me on Twitter already know that I am extremely vocal regarding my adoration of Bernard J. Schaffer’s work. This blog post will be no different. However, a recent event involving Mr. Schaffer’s latest offering, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, got me thinking about the subject of creativity. His book has come under fire on Amazon as of late by book reviewers that appear hell-bent only on slandering his work.

As authors, we know that our books aren’t always going to generate 5-star reviews, and we are prepared to take criticism for our work. It’s part of the process of putting your work “out there.” In fact, as much as we love the praise, I doubt you’d find an author alive that wouldn’t tell you how valuable the constructive criticism is to our future works. With that said, there is a fine line between constructive criticism and just plain being a jerk.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the anonymity of the “internet generation” only seems to fuel a false sense of bravery. It commonly encourages a select group of people (i.e. the “jerks” I referenced earlier) to spew negativity to their heart’s content. This practice angers me a great deal because its sole purpose is to be transparently disrespectful. The internet is a mighty mouthpiece, and though I am a believer in the freedom of speech, I wish some people cared enough about that freedom to use it productively instead of just being a jerk for the sake of being a jerk.

I don’t know Bernard J. Schaffer personally, but I have exchanged pleasantries with him. I have seen his attitude change dramatically since this whole issue began. He’s a proud man and would probably never admit it, but these negative reviews have hurt him, piercing his heart with a dagger of flaming steel. It’s admirable, really. Despite all of the positive reviews he’s received, he still takes it this hard when his book gets ripped to shreds.

Though Mr. Schaffer does not need me to fight his battles for him, I am writing this blog post because he deserves to have his book defended. Whitechapel is the best book I have read all year–a feat accomplished because of Mr. Schaffer’s creativity and ability to paint pictures with his words. Let’s call a spade a spade here. The mythical showdown between Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper is not a new concept, but that’s what attracted Bernard to it. He wanted to, pardon the pun, take a stab at the idea and see if he could create a compelling new angle based on a lesser-known version of Holmes, and a deeper psychological study of the Ripper’s insanity.

In order to achieve this bold new vision, Mr. Schaffer did a tremendous amount of research into the real life Ripper murders, trying to understand what would have made Jack tick. As a fan of Conan Doyle’s work, Bernard knows a perplexing amount about the famous detective, including several tidbits that were addressed in the books, but never explored in any meaningful way. I’m sure Mr. Schaffer knew going in that his book was bound to ruffle the feathers of readers who prefer the classic Holmes, but it’s clear that he wanted to challenge the traditional view of Doyle’s universe. In fact, that’s part of what makes his book so good. He took something so beloved, so well-known, and gave it a fresh spin by offering the reader a new way to think about it.

I won’t dignify the “reviewers” by re-posting their words on my site, but I will say that these people were die-hard fans of the classic Sherlock Holmes with a bone to pick. They admitted to not even reading the book, stopping at a mere 40 pages in before crapping all over it. Admittedly, Bernard’s book is gruesome, gritty, and chock-full of harsh language, but it’s written for adults. Frankly, I am baffled that anyone who knows anything about the real-life Ripper murders would complain about the violence depicted in Mr. Schaffer’s book. What did you expect? The Ripper didn’t invite his victims over for tea and crumpets.

SIDE NOTE: One of the “reviewers” that slagged the book also took the time to find my review and then criticize ME for writing a positive review. In case you’ve ever wondered what pretentious looked like, now you know.

While I rarely like to engage in political discussion, I was very disappointed that one of these “reviewers” cited the inclusion of homosexuality as a reason to not like the book. At last check, it is 2011. It’s okay to nitpick the book because its vision is too different from your perception of the Holmes universe. That is a valid reason to not like it. However, to berate an author’s hard work and drive down their review score due to your own agenda is grounds for an old fashioned slap in the face, as far as I’m concerned.

Bernard wrote something new and different, and while I understand that change can be frightening, I still recommend Whitechapel to anyone whether they are a Sherlock Holmes fan or not. At the end of the day, if we can’t celebrate creativity, then what’s left for us as readers? What if Bernard’s book had been just like every other author who has attempted to tackle this subject matter? Would that have made it more comfortable? Maybe, but certainly less enjoyable.

Years from now, when Bernard is staring down at all of us from atop his giant pile of cash, I hope he’s smiling, thinking about that time he wrote a Sherlock Holmes book that caused such a fuss. A book that, whether good or bad, got people engaged in conversation about it. Mr. Schaffer is going to write many books in his lifetime, all of which I am convinced will be fantastic. Even more than fantastic, however, they will be creative.

The imagination is an amazing thing. Some people can wield it to create people, places, and things that are beyond the scope of normal human beings. And ultimately, that’s why we read, isn’t it? You don’t have to like everything that you read, but for those times when you don’t, I beg you, be constructive and voice your suggestions like a rational person. Life is far too short to just be another jerk.

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