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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Wa min God! Se æx on min heafod is!

Flashback to Usenet: Oh my God! There's an axe in my head!" the web page.

***

In a comment thread on my earier post on wise readers and editors and target audience, daveamongus asked "what exactly are you trying to accomplish, anyway?" I punted that question. elisem gave this reply, a quote from Emma Bull: "If I could have said it shorter, I would have."

Which is a perfect answer. And I can even elaborate on it a bit.

Or more than a bit.

1) The first thing I want to do is tell a goddamned story, and connect with a reader. And maybe, if I'm lucky, get him to examine a preconception or three. But I don't go in with thesis statements, in general--rather, I go in with internal arguments.

2) I write because I'm annoyed. A lot of what motivates me in fiction is irritation. So, for example, irritation with the well-worn fantasy trope (and it appears in so many otherwise worthy books) of the ugly heroine who becomes beautiful over the course of the book and is afterwards lovable led me to write a character who more or less defines herself by her disfigurement, and who is reluctant to let go of it. Even when she can accept being healed, (finally) she still resists being made beautiful or ordinary.

I'm currently irritated with the sex roles in an Elizabeth George book I just read. It'll be interesting to see what that gets me.

Every book is different in what I want to accomplish with it, and there's usually a whole plethora of things--which would take more volume to explicate than to write s fiction.

Thus, the darned fiction.

3) Discuss.

This is the big one. The astute reader will notice that my characters, protagonists and antagonists both, are rarely quite the good guys they think they are. They're all the heroes of their own movies. But they're also frequently just plain wrong.

For example, pretty much every government in Hammered is cryptofacist, whatever they claim their politics are. In Scardown, a Canadian politician who's a political reformer makes an appearance. That same astute observer will notice that she's something on the Socialist/Old Labour/Classical Democrat (depending on your nationality) end of the equation. But frankly, she's a bit of an asshat too, although that's likely where most of the author's political sympathies lie. *cough*

There's also a selection of socialists and capitalists being taken shameless advantage of by the various factions behind the power games. Ideological rhetoric and actual objectives rarely seem to go hand in hand, above the grassroots level.

Likewise, there's a moment toward the end of the third book where Jenny and another character are arguing about who the bad guy behind a particularly nasty bit of warcriminality is. I actually suspect Jenny is wrong; she's a bit of a conspiracy theorist and has a nasty suspicious mind (for good reason.) But she's got the POV; most readers will assume she's right. I don't think she is. But you never know.

Which is fine. History is like life. You never really know what went on while you weren't looking. You can only guess.

So, the present trilogy has a lot of arguments running through it. One involves the Great Man theory of history and whether or not it has any validity, or if it's a construct of the way we percieve narrative. Another involves God and religion and under what circumstances it's of use.

Hopefully, rather than answers, I've managed to turn up arguments on various sides of the questions. Because to my mind, fiction's for things that can't be handled in black or white terms.

Comments

Writing in response...

A few years ago ('96, I think), I had dinner with Terry Pratchett, and brought up the fact that the major characters in his Discworld series are all white (going by descriptions in the books, as well as the Kirby covers). He spluttered a bit, saying that color was unimportant compared to species, and became defensive when I asked, "Well then, why are all your humans white?" [1]

I've run into similar defensiveness in the "Star Trek" community regarding the lack of gay/lesbian characters on the Enterprise [2]. Those annoyances (in EBear's sense) have irritated me enough that I now have characters in two different stories who fail, in one way or another, to live up to their own ideals. They're not consciously hypocrites---they just choose not to think about the fact that they're not following through on their own rules.

It also makes me wonder: when my niece (currently 16) is 30, which of _my_ attitudes will she consider indefensible? What's the next big generational "oh my god, how could you ever have believed/done/not done XYZ?" Because we all know there's going to be one, and great stories will be based on it...

[1] "Jingo" came out two and a half years later; it's the only Discworld novel since "Moving Pictures" that I'd call clumsy.

[2] See http://www.webpan.com/dsinclair/metrosource.html for an interview with Scott Bakula in which he admits that when he signed on to play Archer, it didn't occur to him that by the 22nd Century, everyone would be back in the closet.

Re: Writing in response...

Oh, heck yeah. In a lot of ways, Carnival is my response both to neoconservativism and to a lot of the themes in '70's SF, and I'm sure there are ways in which, in fifteen, twenty years, it will seem helplessly dated and bigoted.

I hope, any way. I fear it may seem even more radical then than it does now.

As for cover art, characters in cover art are almost always caucasified. See my own cover art for example....

I try to write worlds that reflect the world I know--in terms of race, creed, religion, sexual and gender identification, and so forth. Oddly enough, my fiction's a little light on lesbians. But I've been writing a lot of male characters lately, which may have something to do with it.

Re: Writing in response...

Minor quibble: The major recurring characters in Pratchett are white, sure. But there are Asian-inspired characters in Interesting Times and Black and mixed-race characters in Witches Abroad.

Philosophical query: Pratchett is writing about the world he knows and loves. Primarily that's England, although he has ranged across Europe and even off to Australia. And although England isn't free of all race issues by any stretch of the imagination, conflicts over skin color are not at the core of its essential heritage. So, is he being dishonest by not dealing directly with race? He's certainly dealt extensively with the speciesist isues -- from the Campaign for Equal Heights to the tradition of Troll opera.

Further philosophical queries:

Is it essential that every author deal with race issues?

Is it cheating if a writer brings race in without also dealing with the important issues of class, history, and differing cultures? And not just for the characters of color, but for the white characters?

I'd rather read a book in which all the characters are white inside and out, rather than a book in which race is worn like a t-shirt on otherwise identical mannequins. If the fictional world is based on this one, race makes a difference; pretending it doesn't feels fake. If the fictional world is not, there are subtle and wonderful ways to use characters of different races.

Probably the very best at this is Ursula LeGuin, whose story "The Pathways of Desire" deals explicitly with race, among other things. And there's a lovely subtle moment in "Nine Lives," when a Welsh character feels like a scrawny, blue-skinned plucked chicken: "never before had he so envied Martin's compact brownness."

Re: Writing in response...

Hi WWL; thanks for the counter-commentary. No, I don't think every author has to deal with race, or sexuality, or drug abuse --- I agree with what Barbara Feinberg said in "Welcome to the Lizard Motel" about how tedious "teen problem" novels are. But I think Pterry is writing about dwarves and trolls and so on _because_ he personally is a lot more comfortable thinking about the issue in the abstract than in reality---about other species than he is thinking about races in ours. It's escapist, in the sense of escaping to a universe in which the problems are simpler, and their solutions clearer. I just find that an odd contrast with what he says so often in his writing (Pterry would make a great character in a novel himself ;-), and wonder which of _my_ attitudes and beliefs the next generation will find reactionary.

Thanks again,
G
Fascinating! Thanks for this. I can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy - I'm very interested to see how you develop your themes on politics, the Great Man theory and religion.

I think Jenny would probably hate the world my heroes build - but then so will a lot of their progeny, biological and intellectual. Law of Unintended Consequences and all that...

This is fun, the part of the process I actually enjoy - taking ideas and stretching them till they snap up against history... *g*
::snort:: The axe-in-head people have got at least two translations rather wrong. Have just emailed them.
You know, I'd been tempted to say something snarky in response to the punt... glad I resisted.

As for the acutal answer: I can dig it.
It's not a question that *can* be answered in any sort of meaningful fashion. Emma Bull got it right.
On the one hand I'll say that you did some kind of meaningful job answering it with this post, hence my comment.

On the other, I wonder why the original post, if the expression of a desire for readers sympathetic to your intentions is rhetoric which cannot be discussed meaningfully.

Personally, I've never had trouble expressing, at least internally, what I hope to accomplish in writing or in life, which did make me wonder at the original response. But, it is truly possible that I am a bit simple, that way.
I think you misread the original post, actually. It's not rhetoric, and it's not about what I want from my readers. It's a practical discussion of target audience and what editors and wise readers do for a writer's ability to communicate.
I certainly understood that aspect of it; I just fixated (rightly or wrongly) on the notion of finding people who are sympathetic to your aims.

I mean, in other words, is it more a subconscious thing, that the target audience and editors and wise readers simply resonate with what you're trying to accomplish, without having to come to an express understanding on modes and meanings of expression outside of the text?

On the flip side of the discussion, Lois McMaster Bujold has said that writing, storytelling is participatory between writer and reader, that the reader supplies in some respects their own meaning for things. I've taken this to mean, in other words, that two people from remarkably different demographics can read something and have it resonate strongly with both of them. (Myself and another longtime Bujold reader, marnan could be used to demonstrate this sort of principle as we're from quite different voluntary and involuntary demographics, almost completely. Yet the same stories resonate with us.) That there is not, necessarily, a right way or a wrong way to read the story. I could be mistaken, of course, in my interpretation of Ms. Bujold's comments.

But, I think this principle is present in some lit-crit, as analysis of works often delve deeper than the author's express intentions. I'm having a hard time spelling out why, precisely, but I think of Dostoyevsky as my pet example. Has to do with Chernyshevsky's misapprehensions of Dostoyevsky's earliest works, and his harsh criticism of the later stuff.
Oh, I think most writers will tell you that 50% of any story belongs to the reader. No two people read the same story, because they bring 50% of it with them. And the same reader can't even read the same story twice, frankly; the reader changes between readings.

But the two things--target audience and the reader's 50%--are not exclusionary. Because 50% of a story belongs to the writer, too.

Re: Zeppelin Anthology Review

Yeah, it's been such a scary review week I've just been tacking them all on to the same post to avoid spamming lj.

Thanks!

Re: Zeppelin Anthology Review

dood, I never mind people telling me good things.

*g* And I like to blog them so I can save them in memories, but gah, I don't want to be the kid who is always talking about how cool she is.

Re: Zeppelin Anthology Review

I'm starting to feel like an overnight success. And it cracks me up, because I know how long it took me to get here!

Re: Zeppelin Anthology Review

I love the Tina Turner song. "two dollar high heel shoes and a honky tonk dress / in the rhythm and blues revues / I had a dream, I guess."