jaylake said something the other day about this livejournal (meaning mine) having some characteristics akin to Babe Ruth pointing at the fences. And you know, I'm not real sure about that in general, because it occurs to me that I have a whole complex of artistic and business goals that I don't discuss here much. I talk about specific projects, and my concerns and joys and frustrations with them, but on a larger scale, not so much.
Anyway, between that and a conversation with arcaedia, I got thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.
And I came to the sobering conclusion that my problem is I want it all.
Which I guess needs a little unpacking.
There's this thing I once heard John Barnes call "the club scene." By which he meant the experimental literary cutting edge of the genre, the work that's brilliant, inaccessible, or both. And I have to admit, I love this stuff.
I've also accepted, after some thrashing, that it's not what I write. I am not, in general, an innovator. I'm not going to be a Delany or a Joyce or and Austen or a Marlowe for matter; for one thing, I fail the Girl Genius test by about ten or fifteen years.
And you know, I'm cool with that.
On the other hand, I am--if I pause for a moment to examine my skill set as a writer without undue modesty--not without my own strengths. I'm a pretty fair storyteller, and I am really good at creating compelling characters. I'm a better than average prose stylist, and one of my major strengths is also one of my major weaknesses: breadth.
I have a hell of a time repeating myself. Voice, narrative style, subgenre... it's all over the map.
And that, for me, is what 1crowdedhour calls "the box it came in." I don't get to pick those things: stories show up with a voice and a set of narrative demands that I can't control. I also can't control character arcs: my people show up with their damage, and one way or another they have to deal with it, which imposes another set of restrictions on the story.
If I try to set those things aside, the story simply will not go. There's no forcing it. I get panic attacks when I try, and real, honest to God writer's block, the kind where there are no words to be had.
Okay, so we don't do that. Honor your process, check.
(The list of weaknesses, of course, is also available. I tend to be too clever for my own good. I tend to get wound up in extremely complicated plots which I don't take time to adequately explain to the reader, and I'm overly in love with intrigue at the expense of action. I tend to rely very heavily on the reader to make connections and pick a pattern out of the points I provide, rather than drawing it for her. I'm still learning how to write transitions, 12 and two halves novels in.)
Here's the thing. While I'm not the kind of writer who can compete at the cutting edge of the club scene, I am the kind who is driven by deep literary motives. It's unfashionable in the business end of the genre to admit this, is seems. I talk to a lot of writers who at least put up a pretty good pretense of treating writing as a business and nothing more.
But that's not why I write.
I write--I am driven to write--because I have something to say, and there's nothing else I have ever wanted to do with my life, and because there is no thrill in the world for me that equals the thrill of connecting with a reader. I write to be read. And I also write because fiction is the only way for me to discuss the questions that my brain dredges from its depths, and because I have these stories and I have to get them out before I die.
So let's take the second and scarier one of those two basic motivations first. It's not blase and it's not fashionably negligent and it's not business-oriented. It makes people wince a little in embarrassment when one talks that way in public. Because it's Pretentious to talk about Art.
That's a club scene motivation, and it's not supposed to have a place in the working world, really. It's embarrassing. It's passion, and our inner Puritans wince a little around that sort of thing. It scares the cattle.
And it also exposes a vulnerability. Because caring that much about anything means that it's a way to hurt the person who cares.
How much safer to pretend negligence. How much safer to pretend negligence to myself.
But you know something? I'm already out here, neck on the table, and I think we all know each other too well to pretend that what you're getting from me is anything but my best effort. I'm trying as hard as I can over here, every day, every pixel, and if it's not good enough, that's not due to lack of effort.
It's because I'm not good enough. And I face that every day. My life as a writer is pretty much constant failure, because nothing I write can ever be good enough. There will always be something wrong with it that I wasn't good enough to fix.
But that's what it's about, too. Shoot your wad. Put it out there. On the line. Anything less is dishonest, as an artist.
And there I go using that A word again.
That's half the dilemma. On the one hand, I think it's probably pretentious as hell to announce the world that I'm going out there to create Art. Because who the hell am I to take a long, hard look at the best the genre has to offer and say "I want to write that well?"
Well, nobody. And I'm not saying I do write that well. I'm not saying that what I create is Art.
But it's what I want.
There's another complication, of course. Which is the need to make a living doing it. And the fact that my other driving motivation is to be read. To connect with a reader. To give him a moment of emotion or insight that he values enough to pay for. I gotta tell you, I value the hell out of the reader. Without him, my books do not exist.
And I don't mean, don't get published. They don't exist. The stories in my head, or written down, are Schroedinger's Cat. They don't exist until you, the reader, open the book and call them up like Aladdin rubbing his lamp.
...and that's a commercial motivation, isn't it? Reach the reader. Connect with the reader, as many readers as possible. Submotivation, reach as many readers as possible, so that I can make a living writing stories, and connect with more readers.
And that, my friends, demands accessibility. So on one side, there's one complex of problems--the need to tell the stories I have, to be true to them, to bring them into rounded life. The need to keep them complex and questing and... meritorious, if that's not too presumptuous a word. I want, as it were, the best of both worlds.
I want to write literature (a pretty high hurdle for a genre hack). And I want to reach readers, too. I want to entertain them. I want people to like reading my books.
And more, I want different kinds of readers to like reading my books. I want to reach people who read for the explosions, and the characters, and I also want to reach the ones that read for the theme and nuance and the craft.
Fortunately, I do not believe that those are mutually exclusive goals. There are problems, of course: there are readers who read for the narrative who will be annoyed by the traces of Other Things going on beneath the surface and who won't pick up the next book. And there are readers who want the crunchy bits (as skzbrust calls them) who won't glance past a flashy surface to find them.
Now, I'm helped in this by my deep-seated conviction that accessibility is a literary value (as is complexity, mind you, and the two intersect in tremendously complicated and sometimes mutually exclusive ways, but baby, if it was easy it wouldn't be fun, right?).
And frankly, doing both at once is not easy, and I may not ever be a good enough writer to pull it off, and so far, I seem to be consistently erring on one side of the line or the other. One-Eyed Jack is not a deep book. Whiskey & Water is not an accessible book.
Fuck it. I did my best. There it is, it's on the line, and I am not a good enough writer to do it better than I did. I wish I had something facile to say, but this is the Olympics, after all, and if I blow my dismount I don't get that ten. And maybe I faceplant on the floormats on international television, too.
But it'll be my honest failure when it happens, and I'll take the lumps like a woman.
So there ya go, Jay. That's "Ebear live without a net."