Laura Kinsale emailed us her comment regarding our discussion on “author as novel” and the encouraged symbiosis between the two, and said that it might make for a good blog post to provide another point of view on our debate about accountability, author-as-novel, and close connections between author, book, self, and readership.
Well, here’s my take on it.
Writing is not a service industry, because writing is an art. When I sit down to write, I am not thinking of my readers. I am thinking of the words, the story, the characters, the way it all goes together, the why and where it goes, this golden ball with the golden string unraveling and tangling and confusing me and frustrating me and delighting me.
Guess what readers. It’s not about you at all. It’s not about me either, except that in some unknown way it’s born of me and nurtured and driven by me. The old clichÃ© about books being your children is true. They are -of- you, but you do not control them.
It’s about the writing. It’s about the world and story there, and sometimes you want it so badly to be something else and you try and you try and you cannot make it go that way. And you want to beat your head against the wall and scream. And nothing you do will make it what you dream that it can be. As good as you wanted it to be.
Like children, books.
So then it goes out there, whatever you made of it, and it’s a commodity. People say what they want to say, in whatever way they want to say it, because it’s no skin off their back. And they get really really pissed off if they spent their money and they didn’t like what they got. So now it’s corporate America and readers “voting with their wallets” and shut up if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, be a professional, suck-up to readers, always be polite, who-do-you-think-you-are, some kind of diva? Some kind of artiste? Be truthful to the depth of your heart in your work, but in your public persona, lie lie lie because otherwise you’re just another wuss who can’t take it. Learn to sell yourself, get a blog, get a website, that’s the future, son, it’s all out there, Wall Street, big money…hey it’s just a buncha damn words, what’s your problem? We can always find another writer, they’re a dime a dozen.
A book is a magic thing. It has a life of its own. Do you doubt it, in the small hours of the night when you sit up in bed reading and reading, living in a world you never made, unable to bear to leave it until the last page closes and it vanishes into thin air?
Do you think it is any different for me when I write it? It is magic, but so fragile. So hard to find and easy to lose.
Now there’s this internet, another magic thing with a life of its own, a million voices roaring whispering screaming over your shoulder into the quiet place where the stories come from. You can either shut it out entirely or try to open one tiny window and hope you aren’t washed away in the flood. It’s foolish to open the window, frankly. You do that when you’re stuck with no magic at hand, and you’re bored and discouraged and fretful but you have to stay at the computer just-in-case. It’s like having a bottle of liquor in the drawer.
I always loved books by certain authors. I loved the words, the way they were put together…“Language is like shot silk; so much depends on the angle at which it is held.” John Fowles wrote that in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and it awed me when I read it, the simple perfection of that image, the sound of it, and the way it fit into the story that he told. I used to love his books so much that I longed to write to him, like you’d write to a lover, as if I knew him and he must know me, and we could have long conversations and understand one another.
Lately I read a biography of him, and he was a silly mess. He was just a man, and did some things I couldn’t respect, but as an author myself I understand much better now that his books were not him. He lived in two lives, his real one, common and a little shoddy and full of all the
aches and missteps and selfishness and worries that we all bear, and in another one, a world that he created with words. They intersected but they are not the same.
One is living, one is like a living dream, both created piece by piece, moment by moment, step by step and keystroke by keystroke, blood sweat and tears and run to the grocery store and by the bank before you walk the dog.
All the storm and fury of the internet and readers and critics and sales figures is nothing. It’s not out there. It’s in here. If I have to protect it from readers, I will protect it, viciously. That may be by thinking you are all a bunch of clueless babbling idiots, no personal offense. No more than you want to hear my personal woes do I want to know what your ten million conflicting opinions are.
I serve a different master. I serve this art, whether you buy it or not. I began to write because I loved to write. That is still the only way.
I as a person deserve no particular respect above the average. But the work that I do, the art itself which has been with us and served us and consoled us and given us wonder and joy and some little modicum of understanding here and there—that art deserves respect. From me, from
readers, from publishers. We should all give it the best that we have.
That’s my take. Your mileage may vary.