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April 2016



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david bowie realism _ truepenny

that's right you too can be the proud owner of the quality goes in before the name goes on

I've been asked to blog a bit more about what I mean when I talk about being an "auctorial construct." Since part of my mission statement in keeping this blog is to warn up-and-coming writers of the unsignposted potholes in the road, I think that's a fair request, even though the prospect makes me somewhat nervous. I can see the slapfight from here, and it scares me.

Still, this is for posterity, so I will endeavor to be honest.

This was in part inspired by an SF writer conversation about finding fan pages for yourself you had no idea existed and no part in setting up, and in part by a similar conversation about the infamous Youtube video "Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury," and whether it was creepy or awesome, and how it would feel to be the recipient of such an internet lustogram.

Context is NSFW, if you had any illusions otherwise:

I'm just in these last couple of years coming to realize that, to a lot of people (like, more people than I know in real life), I'm no longer a real person they don't know, or maybe know by reputation. Instead, I've become an auctorial construct, and it's very bizarre.

Essentially, I'm a fictional person to them.

And they feel like they have ownership of that construct/fictional person, and sometimes they get very angry when I persist in being me and not the person they imagined. Which, I mean--okay, yeah. It happens to actors and musicians and sports figures a thousand-fold more, and politicians build their careers on capitalizing on this effect, but boy it takes some getting used to.

Sometimes, it's a little like dealing with 5,000 high school crushes. Sometimes it's like dealing with 5,000 high school enemies. Sometimes, I learn things about myself I did not know from my Wikipedia page.

Part of the price of being a public person is not having a lot of control over what people say about you--or, more precisely, what they say about the auctorial construct they have created, that they think is you. It's the cost of celebrity. Even teeny tiny celebrity. Celebrity this big: ---><---

Everybody experiences through their own perceptual filters, you see, and everybody projects their deepest, most heartfelt hopes and dreads into what they read and watch and live. To narrow it down a little, it's how this flawed technological telepathy we call prose communication works. It's why a book can get under your skin and change you; because a book is a mirror. A funhouse mirror. (My former Viable Paradise roomie Cory Doctorow, who isn't very much like a lot of people seem to think he is, and who I like a lot, has a hypothesis that a lot of how we experience fiction comes from the workings of our mirror neurons. Which is to say, the same things that both give us empathy (if you believe that particular research), allow us to model the behaviors of others in advanceof experience ("Mom's gonna kill me!"), and also tend to lead us to project our own motivations onto others ("I know you're thinking about breaking up with me!").

So sometimes people I don't know see themselves, or the things they hate most, in me--the same way they would see those things in a fictional character. And sometimes they bond with those projections, or loathe them.

It's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable stumbling across people claiming I said asinine things I never said, and that happens all the time, too.

Sometimes, I stumble across people claiming I said totally awesome things, or gave them great recipes I have never seen before. That's weird too, but doesn't quite give me the same frisson of omg people think I'm evil that the "Elizabeth Bear said she hates fanfiction" posts do, or the blog reviews where people say they want to stab me. 

It's just weird when people think they know what I think, you know? But I've come to realize that that's not about me; it's about them. I'm some guy who writes novels and climbs walls and reads too much and is unfortunately somewhat prickly and overdefended. I do not walk on water--except for now, when it's frozen all over the everything. I have a bad habit of seeing too many sides of most arguments, but I don't hate fanfiction. And I really don't hate queer people. Or most of the other things people keep saying I hate.

Except George W. Bush. I despise that shitnozzle, to use one of panjianlien's preferred terms.

In other words, people don't actually think I'm awesome. Or evil. (Well, my ex-husband might.) They think the Elizabeth Bear who lives in their head is these things.

Part of the job, I fear. At least we're not 1970s rock stars. We'd be spending all our time fielding questions about whether it was true we slept with David Bowie.

The nice thing is that this has led me to realize that the artists and public figures I admire, the ones who seemed bizarrely elevated to me--are pretty much going through the same weirdness every day. Which makes it easier not to pee my pants when I meet somebody whose work I desperately admire. (I still totally burst into tears when I met Peter S. Beagle though. Just so you know.)

It also makes me understand what it is that people get out of Real People Slash, though man, I tell you, I still find that all the squick in the world. Intellectual understanding =/= emotional understanding. (NB: I also do not hate RPS. It just gives me the horrors, because I can't disconnect it from the people behind it. I make an exception when they have been dead for over 200 years, however.)

So no, Rachel Bloom is not actually talking to the real Ray Bradbury. She's talking to the auctorial construct Ray Bradbury. And it's not all that different from me admiring Angela Bassett's guns circa Strange Days, or Matthew Yang King's abs, or Mandy Patinkin getting himself accidentally interviewed as a man-on-the-street in NPR's election coverage...

Projection and objectification. It's what's for dinner. I suspect all we can do is try to be self-aware about it, and realize that the person we think we admire without knowing them is a person, and they have a life outside our head. And that the fan who may be uncomfortably over-fixated and sending inappropriately suggestive emails is in fact responding to a deep internal need, and not us at all. 

Which I guess comes down to treating that person with compassion. 

...especially when it's so useful for us as artists to be able to illuminate and manipulate those feelings through the medium of fiction. Which is to say, we invite readers to project into and objectify our characters. It's one of the ways we get people to care about characters.

Like most tools, it cuts both ways.


Calved off a more meditative/revelatory response to this to my own journal, but meanwhile...

The separation of self and persona, whether projected from within or without, is something I remember being aware of from a very young age. I think L.A. is pretty much a huge churning stew of opportunity to work that one out, and the permeable divide between fan and pro in SF-fandom only reinforced that. I've spent a little time on the periphery of major media fandom where the divide is sharp, and I'm not fond of it, even as I see why it's there.

I have a mirror-image puzzlement, with authors of various stripes who speak of their characters being in control of the story. Sort of reverse RPS. I don't get it, and it weirds me.
I think that last is really a combination of figurative language and the writer externalizing the creative process so as to get a better look at it. At least, that's what's happening when I say that, I think, and I say it often.

(I did, however, once hear a writer on a panel claim that everything she wrote was authentically the character's voice, because the character was a real person whom she channeled. After a moment of absolute WTF silence, the rest of the writers on the panel went on talking politely about their process.)
I *hope* that's what it is, in most cases. People get really insistent about how they word it. "$Character absolutely insists that in this scene, he is wearing $thing, and is talking to $person, despite everything I keep telling him. And now he's sulking."

o.O !

Personifying the creative process? I get that one. I don't know, maybe I'm not giving enough slack, or maybe I've just been traumatized by one too many RP-channelers and become hypersensitive.
I've had experiences very much like that. Including stories that refused to go when I had a character doing the "wrong" thing.

I figure, creative process is mysterious and different for everyone.
I think a lot of people use it as shorthand, yeah. Or -- and this is the way I explain it when I'm trying to not look like a total flake -- it does get to a point, when you have created a character who has consistent sets of behaviours and motivations and experiences and such, where you really can just run them like a subroutine in the back of your head. And if you're trying to force something that's outside of that character logic on said subroutine, it just kinda won't work.

I wonder how much of this is lack of less woowoo language to talk about this?
Well, or talking about it experientially rather than in a way that's geared to explain it to people who don't build characters in their head. Or a certain privileging of the Romantic point of view on the arts, where the more inaccessible and ephemeral your process is, the more you can set up a sense of privileged status as an artist.

Which...well. Let's just say I think it's a lot of things? :)
Ah yes. The artist statement version.

(Trinker used to be a jeweler, and hung around with a bunch of high-end craft and art jewelry folk. Statements like, "I dunno, I just thought it looked nice" don't garner as much critical (and fan/patron) attention as "X has always felt a deep affinity for the sea and mountains, and draws upon a lifetime of dream exploration to create unique artworks that speak to the refined viewer..." (Even worse is, "I make kitten designs because they sell well, and I like eating and staying dry.")

And the fact that those statements are what's rewarded by the greater public, who are the people who consume/utilize creative stuff, I think just makes Bear's point entirely. There are...social expectations of how to behave based on one's profession (and this doesn't just apply for creative professions), and we, not just individually but as a society, enforce those hard.
And frankly, some people (like me) do in fact experience their characters as splinter personas. With likes and dislikes. Some are happy workers, some are withholding sons of bitches.

It's my process, and I am not about to apologize for it.
What else could they do? Eek. I'm not sure it if is a sign of maturity or just surrender to the endless irrationality of humanity, but in high school I would have argued with her but now I would have taken a deep breath and moved on.
My characters *are* in control of the stories. The fact that they're subprocesses of my own mind with no objective reality, largely operated by my subconscious, does not in the least affect this.

There is stuff Jenny will do, and stuff she won't, and half the time she surprises the heck out of me.

A writer who characterizes through Method has to get pretty comfortable with the idea that there's a whole bunch of stuff going on in her head that the ego doesn't necessarily know about, and really doesn't control.
I think there's a line somewhere between "very fully fleshed out figment of one's imagination" and "independent entity". (OTOH, there's also "character who no longer exists solely in the mind of the author".

Your description of your process with Jenny doesn't bother me. I don't have any current samples of stuff that does, so between that and a lack of language to discuss it well...kind of at a conversational cul de sac.