I’m rubbish at being American. So bad, in fact, that I’m British. This causes me a problem when writing my Jake Hancock P.I. series, which is set mostly in Hollywood. That’s why I have a dedicated beta reader—the eagle-eyed Tammy McGowan of Washington D.C.—to spot any British English phrases, any references someone over the pond wouldn’t get, and any words that feel as right in an American’s mouth as a crumpet with butter.
After doing a great job with the first novel, I asked Tammy, “So, what do you think?”
“It’s good. It’s witty, fresh,” she replied.
I sensed a but, so I didn’t reply.
“But there’s one problem.”
“Jake’s a bit of an asshole.”
I wiped the sweat from my brow. Phew! I kind of knew he was when I wrote him. He’s supposed to be that way. I’d come to terms with that already, and I’m prepared to take my lumps. He’s only supposed to appeal to a small demographic of readers.
But she’d sown seeds of doubt in my mind. What if this ‘Jake’s a bit of an asshole’ thing is a bigger problem than I initially thought? What if no one likes him? I like him, but wait, does this mean I’m an asshole? Is this why I have few friends?
Instead of talking this problem through with her, I got on the defensive.
“That’s cool. He’s supposed to be an asshole.”
“I don’t think he’ll appeal to American readers. If someone acted that way in America, people would think that he has bad social skills, has lived overseas for a while, or is…”
I inspected dirt under one of my fingernails. “Do you think that’ll be a problem?”
I knew the answer before I asked. We’re not talking about a typo or spelling error that can easily be fixed. It’s a huge problem. If I worked quickly, I could possibly make Jake less of an asshole in the time it would take to write a whole new novel.
I went away from the conversation disheartened. I thought about scrapping my novel. I even phoned my dad to talk the problem through. His solution was simple: “Who’s Jake?”
Now clearly he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about when I recounted the conversation with Tammy. But maybe he’d hit upon something. Who is Jake? I thought.
He’s arrogant, narcissistic, flippant and, as far as Tammy’s concerned, he’ll appeal to American readers like a barbecue does a vegan. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Does the world need another clean-cut hero?
Days passed and I managed to trample on those seeds of doubt. I got back to the confidence I felt when I wrote the manuscript, or at least enough steps in front of the doubt to not worry too much about it. I no longer think Jake being an asshole is a problem. To some people he will be. But not everyone. Some readers out there will get him.
Tammy offered, and continues to offer, great advice. But this time I ignored her. Not because I think she’s wrong, just that she likes what she likes and I like what I like. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it. Maybe I should imagine a graph that compares curves of book sales for both a sterilized version of Jake and the Jake that I wrote—but that isn’t me. I want readers to like what comes naturally to me, which happens to be writing about a character that most people will think is an asshole.
Besides, not everyone thinks I’m an asshole. At least I hope.
I spoke to Tammy later on, and told her this: “If he’s not able to make enemies, he won’t make any friends.”
What do you think? Have I created a monster?
Hancock P.I. is now available to download for Kindle on Amazon.