Author as Artist, Novel as Art

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 cliché 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.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Thank you, Laura.  As usual, the way you express yourself is simultaneously elegant, nuanced, and yet possessed of ringing clarity (to me, at least). 

    Your comments about the magic of a book/story/idea/conception being then released into the world as a commodity, as well as addictive visits to various sites on the internet feeling like “having a bottle of liquor in the drawer” struck a chord, especially.

    There isn’t much more I can say, except “Thank you”.  I truly enjoyed reading your post on this issue.

    —MRM

  2. 2
    Dee says:

    I thought this was a brilliant response. Crafted, expressive, touching.

    But in the end, I am afraid it will probably change very little. Which is kind of sad.

    Art, by it’s very subjective nature, is to be assessed by it’s audience. It’s to be awed, studied, discussed, rejected, and often times, forgotten.

    Reviews can be painful—a fact that I as a new author fear deeply—but like children, we cannot always protect our books. We’ve done our part and like with our kids, there’s always room for improvement on how we raised them. We can hurt that they were not universally loved, but we can’t pretend they won’t have flaws. Or wash our hands of our accountability to correct them.

    Is the author the novel? No, not really. My books are usually a lot wittier—not to mention active—than I usually am. But I find that I cannot often change people’s perception of me once it’s created. That’s in person as well as in print. I can only be who I am, on the paper or next to you at a party. What you do with it is up to you.

    I truly do believe readers have a right to be unhappy with a product they have paid for. We would complain if toilet cleaner didn’t work. We would be unhappy if we wasted money on dish soap or shampoo. I complain profusely when a product doesn’t work to my satisfaction, if only to myself or my husband, who in his graphic design business sells art to people who make the decision to purchase it while “art” is furthest from their minds.

    That is simply the price of selling art as a commodity.

    Dee

  3. 3
    Jeri says:

    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.

    I’ve never heard it described more painfully accurately than that.  (And eww, I just used an adverb to modify an adverb.)

    But there’s no rule that says authors have to let those voices in.  To me it seems unhealthy both for the work and for the sanity to open oneself up to such scrutiny/ridicule/adulation. 

    How about not reading reviews, participating in group blogs, or lurking and posting on reader newsgroups?  There’s a radical idea, huh?

    Based on Bitchery feedback from yesterday’s post, readers don’t want to get buddy-buddy with authors.  My desire to read someone’s book decreases with exposure to them in these kinds of forums.  Maybe readers would prefer authors “leave the room” so they can talk about their books honestly (as Ann pointed out in her comment on the other post).

    So if exposing ourselves doesn’t endear us to readers, why jump into the fray at all?  Why not spend those hours and precious carpal tunnels writing better books?

  4. 4
    tisty says:

    Great Answer from laura Kinsale and she one of my all time favorite authors, but I think it is only half the story.

    Yes, when You are carried into the middle of your story, you are creating art (Or something etheral. Pretty shit. Whatever) But when that is done, then you take a deep breath and start the edits. You think about spelling, grammar, syntax, whether this or that is offensive but your prepared to stand by it, or not. You try to gage what your agent/editor will think. This stage has everything to do with thinking about your audience, what you are trying to do with your writing and how you can best sell it as well. Perhaps it’s not that mercenery, but for me Oscar Wilde said it will with the line “an artist’s heart is in his(her) head.”

    To sell a book you have to sell a bit of yourself? So be it. This is an age in instant and intimate contact. Or perhaps it’s a case of quantity over quality. People like a book, they want to know the person who created it. Yes often it’s tacky and icky, but it is reality. It has to be when books are competing with T.v., movies and other psuedo-intimate mediums.

    And critism of a book is a shit and, yes, it is always personal. I’m sure if i told someone their kid was fugugly then I’d get a slap across the chops.

    As Dee said, it is all the price of selling art as a commodity. And it is a price that has always had to be paid in some form or other.

    Well that what I think any way

  5. 5
    Elle says:

    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.

    Laura Kinsale, even your e-mail is beyond eloquent.  I know exactly what you mean by this.  When someone’s writing speaks to me so profoundly or with such perfect clarity, I *do* feel as though the author must be my kindred spirit and that we would surely get on like a house afire if we got together.  This is probably at the root of the reader over-identifying with author problem (if you think it is a problem.)  In such cases, criticism of the favorite author can be perceived as criticism of one’s self.

    I am glad that you think of your writing as *art* (and you are very right to do so, IMHO.)  But art is *always* subject to criticism, be it Monet, Mozart or the latest literary sensation.  It must be almost impossible to avoid reading criticism of your work, even if you are actively trying to steer clear of it.  The temptation to peek in on an internet review site and see how your work is being received must be nearly irresistible.  Actually, I would rather authors think of their detractors as “a bunch of clueless babbling idiots” and go on to follow their own muse than to start modifying their work to try to please every reader (and thus sap the life out of it.)  Just because someone criticizes your work doesn’t mean that they are right.  (The early Impressionist painters were savaged by the critics of the French Royal Academie of Fine Arts, but now they are laughing all the way to the bank.  Or they would be if they were still alive.)  Of course, *calling* specific posters “clueless babbling idiots” is not a good move from a PR standpoint.

  6. 6
    tisty says:

    >Of course, *calling* specific posters “clueless babbling idiots” is not a good move from a PR standpoint.

    if people are aloud to cririse art, then surely artists are aloud to critise poeople. Though maybe they should say it quietly, under their breath, in a darkened room!!!! :-D

  7. 7

    This was simply beautiful. Thank you for posting this.

    Of course publishing is a business, but when we writers are writing we create art. When an author begins to approach her hands-in-the-dirt creation as pure business, I think you can tell. It begins to show.

    As to criticism. . . >>How about not reading reviews, participating in group blogs, or lurking and posting on reader newsgroups?<

    <

    God, that sounds so simple. But writing is

    such a solitary act. And you spend so much time and thought (Oh, God, the THOUGHT) on one little product. And, as someone who just recently found a critique partner, it is such a relief to talk to somebody else about these people and these lives that you’ve kept in isolation. So, though I won’t see any reviews of my work for a good year, I can understand that need to see what people are saying, and eavesdrop on discussions of characters you’ve raised and loved. *sigh* Even if it is a bad idea.

    That said. . . responding to the reviews and critiques strikes me as a mistake. On so many levels. And it never seems to end well.

  8. 8
    Robin says:

    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.

    This is such a relief to know; as a reader, I want to be able to forge a connection with a book that’s not mediated by the author and his/her expectations or responses to my opinions.  I realized, upon reading this, how much I really view discussion of a book—unless specifically directed at an author, either by his/her request—as something that happens among readers.  If I offer an author my kudos directly—as I have done in a handful of cases—I don’t do so with any expectation that such author will even read what I say.  If they tell me it was valuable to them in any way, I’m actually taken aback with a little surprise. 

    I used to believe that Romance authors and readers had more in common than I now do.  Now, when Romance authors say that they are “readers first,” I don’t know if that’s really true, at least in the same way it’s true for me. 

    As for the book, it’s really a separate entity from the author in my experience of it.  I realize that an author wrote it, of course, but I don’t relate to the author through reading the book.  It’s not simply a commercial product, IMO, although I do make a choice to buy or not to buy and expect that the *production values* of a professionally published book meet a certain standard.  I don’t believe that either the person or the work of an author owes me anything or should be prepared to recognize me in any way at all.  And while I may be blown away by what I see as a book’s artistic achievement, I hold that respect for the book, and only for the author as a disembodied voice that speaks through the book.  I might respect the author or even like her/him as a real person, but that’s separate from whether I like his/her books, really.  I also just don’t have the same kind of reverence for the personas of authors *per se* that I do for books (okay, maybe Derrida, but he’s dead now, and I can indulge my nostalgia for the lively and incandescent little frog).  And I don’t really want to feel that sense of responsibility, especially since authors are as unknown to me on a personal level as I am to them .  While I sometimes really enjoy the public persona of an author, I guess I view it as a kind of performance, in and of itself.  I try to keep it separate from the books, which is harder if the impression I have of the authorial persona is less than spectacular. 

    As for the relationship between an author and her/his novel?  It’s wonderful, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s private—for you to experience and value as you will (“you” as in general author).  Furthermore, while I respect the production of art, I don’t really have this sense that writers of fiction are so much more special than the rest of us.  I guess I feel that we all have our wonderful gifts, as well as those moments of joyful engagement with our work in which we feel so perfectly aware of everyting important in the universe.  I view my own work as important and special in its own way, and I savor the accomplishments in my life that are meaningful to me.  I don’t think there’s anything better for the creative process than to honor it and love what it represents for you (general you, not Laura Kinsale you), but I don’t think I’ve ever connected with a book based on how long it took the author to write it or how much s/he had to sacrifice for it.  I love that Toni Morrison made her famous list of critical things she had to do before she died, and that somehow out of that list came her imperative to write, but I don’t think that’s intrinsically related to how much I love or don’t love each of her books. 

    So the idea that authors may not want to stop by and see what some of us readers have to say?  A relief, really.  And the idea that some authors really do want to stop by and see what some of us readers have to say?  That’s fine with me, as long as they realize I’m not discussing their work because I want to get to know them, or want a mentor in the business, or want them to care what I have to say, or want to feel responsible for their feelings if in some way if their book disappointed me. Because in the end, it’s the book I’ve got the relationship with, not the author.  And once the author enters into that discussion, *I* have to protect the relationship I have with the book in order to keep it from changing into something different and/or less desirable.  I don’t mean that as an insult or as a slap to the author, but simply as a reflection of my respect for the *book* as a thing in and of itself.

  9. 9
    April says:

    I have a slight problem with this description of writing as art. I don’t disagree that writing IS an art—I’m totally on board about that—but the description makes it sound like FINE art, which is the kind of art that doesn’t think about the reader/consumer at all. And I think that’s wrong … because authors DO have to think about their readers more than it would seem.

    Here’s what I mean:

    There are two kinds of art. Fine art and commercial art. Sometimes the line gets blurred between the two—the fine art becoming commercially successful or the commercial art transcending so much that people consider it fine art.

    I’m a commercial artist by day. I manufacture my art almost exactly as it’s requested of me by my employers, and sometimes I might put a little of myself in it if I’m particularly inspired. By night, I’m a fine artist and paint whatever I feel like painting, and sometimes it sells.

    Okay. Translate that to writing. I guess those who write articles or columns for newspapers or magazines might be like commercial artists. They write on assignment for a deadline to fill up copy space or to inform. Authors, I guess … well, it would depend. There are those who pitch a story first, land a contract, then write the book. Then there are those who write their book, then hope to sell it to a publisher. To that extent, I suppose the second type of author is like a fine artist.

    But, if you consider the publisher…

    A publisher’s goal is to sell books. As a result, they tend to buy what they think would be commercially successful. If it’s a beautiful baby of inspired writing, but they don’t see a market for it, they won’t buy it. So you have the publisher standing between the writing artist and the consumer. So an author is probably more a commercial artist than a fine artist … because they have to consider what a publisher needs if they actually want to sell their baby, and what a publisher needs is what readers will buy. Then, once it’s sold, the writing artist has to edit that baby according to what the publisher wants to see changed, again also based on what they think readers will want to see. No?

    Fine artists, on the other hand, the painting kind, generally sell their work directly to the consumer after they’ve painted to their heart’s content—that is, if they’re not lucky enough to land a gallery showing or a contract with a major poster printing company or something. The artist paints their whim, and if the consumer likes it, great—someone might actually buy it, or even prints of it. They don’t follow editorial guidelines. They don’t change the nature of their work. They follow their muse, and if the consumer doesn’t like it, tough. They’ll cut off their ears instead.

    So … while I’m all for calling writers artists, I really don’t think that authors must please only themselves—at least, not if they want to nab a publishing contract to sell books to readers. Publishers generally won’t contract anything they don’t think will sell, so you HAVE to think about the readers. Seriously.

    Or you might as well self-publish and try to sell your work on the boardwalk. Like fine artists do.

    Anyway, that’s my take—a lot less mileage, maybe. Not really a disagreement, just kind of a tweak on single point.

  10. 10
    April says:

    And I also want to add:

    That was very beautifully written, Laura. A true artwork on its own. :)

  11. 11
    tisty says:

    Art V’s Craft?

    Is that what you are getting at April??

    I’m not sure if a Think of writing as art, but that is more a personal thing because I see ‘art’ attainment. Only truely great painters are artists in to my way of thinking, the rest are plying their craft. The same with writer. Only truely brilliant writers are artists.

    But then I also have a problem with the concept of a muse. I’ve heard writers speack very elegently about their muse (Laura Kinsale for one) but it always leaves me with a slight feeling of disbelief. It’s one of those things I want to believe in but I never quiet get myself over that hurdle.

    Maybe the true distinction between the fine arts and writing is that writing is more of a co-operative arrangemt. Though many of the plastic arts involve a level of outside help come to think of it….

    Does anyone have an answer for this???

  12. 12
    Robin says:

    There are two kinds of art. Fine art and commercial art. Sometimes the line gets blurred between the two—the fine art becoming commercially successful or the commercial art transcending so much that people consider it fine art.

    Perhaps the line gets blurred because the distinction is revealed as artifical at some point.  I think we can all come up with examples that distinguish “fine” art from “commercial” art (i.e. the David v. a television commercial), but when it comes to books and movies and visual arts, I think the distinction *can* and *does* blur more easily, in part because the opinion of the viewer is incorporated into the process of determining a work’s value.  Haven’t you ever done something for work—even though you’ve executed it within specific guidelines that are not your own—that feels close to the work you do after hours?  I’m also thinking about those famous Mapplelthorpe photos—the ones that were considered “obscene” and therefore caused such flak within the NEA?  I’m not arguing that anything should or shouldn’t be considered “fine art,” just that with some things it’s more difficult to define the difference without simultaneously invoking the exceptions.

  13. 13
    April says:

    Art V’s Craft?
    Is that what you are getting at April??

    Nope. I believe art involves craft—there is no versus. But then, I always consider the etymology of the word art when I try to define it:

    art – [13] Like arm, arthritis, and article, art goes back to an Indo-European root *ar-, which meant ‘put things together, join.’ Putting things together implies some skill: hence Latin ars ‘skill.’ Its stem art- produced Old French art, the source of the English word. It brought with it the notion of ‘skill,’ which it still retains; the modern association with painting, sculpture, etc did not begin until the mid 17th century. Latin derivatives of ars include the verb artire ‘instruct in various skills,’ from which ultimately English gets artisan [16]; and artificium, a compound formed with a variant of facere ‘do, make,’ from which we get artificial [14].
    >arm, arthritis, article, artificial, artisan, inert

    I’m not one of those who believe that if it’s from the heart and soul and pure emotional depths, it’s automatically art. If there isn’t also a whole lot of craft and skill involved in the making of something, then I don’t really consider it art.

    That said, I have a very healthy respect for commercial artists … because it takes additional craft and skill to please an audience. And if an artist can please both him or herself AND their audience, all the better.

  14. 14
    Sara Donati says:

    Laura, thanks for this essay. You got word.

  15. 15
    Keziah Hill says:

    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.
    This paragraph couldn’t present it’s self to me at a better time. I’m trying to break my internet addiction because it’s killing my writing. Too much information, too many opnions, too much of everything. Thanks Laura.

  16. 16
    Melanie says:

    Laura Kinsale said:

    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?

    Oh my God, yes! And that’s why, when a book is not as enjoyable as we would like, we feel so disappointed.

    There’s almost nothing I enjoy more than being lost in a good book.

    Laura Kinsale again:

    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.

    So, being able to publish your work, receive good reviews, and reach an audience count for nothing in your decision to write? Or is it all just gravy? I’m deliberately being a little dense here, ‘cause I can’t imagine it would be as satisfying for a successful author to just scribble away in a notebook… God knows I love creating my hand-crafted jewellery, but I also enjoy having people enjoy my pieces. But then, maybe writing and making jewellery shouldn’t be compared. Truly, I couldn’t write a novel if my life depended on it. *shrugs*

  17. 17

    I loved reading this essay. Thank you.

  18. 18
    Jeri says:

    Victoria Dahl wrote: So, though I won’t see any reviews of my work for a good year, I can understand that need to see what people are saying, and eavesdrop on discussions of characters you’ve raised and loved. *sigh* Even if it is a bad idea.

    It’s so easy to get addicted to external validation.  Writing is a solitary (lonely) act, and like you said, after so much time alone with a book, we crave feedback.

    But trust me, if you’ve written a good book (which I’m sure you have), the feedback will come to you—on your blog, your fan mail, at your appearances, etc.  If you seek it out by entering situations that are reader-oriented, you have to be prepared to be disappointed.    Know your limits.

  19. 19

    *sigh*

    When I grow up, I want to be able to write this well.

    Thank you, Laura.

  20. 20
    Jane says:

    You sure do write nice but I can’t agree with all the points you raise.  Books are not like children because children are real people. Tisty said:

    And critism of a book is a shit and, yes, it is always personal. I’m sure if i told someone their kid was fugugly then I’d get a slap across the chops.

    Books are things.  Items.  Paraphenalia.  They may be the product of hard labor.  You might be leaving a personal piece of yourself in each manuscript but it’s still just a thing.  Not a person and therefore doesn’t deserve the same treatment as a person.

    Just because you publish doesn’t mean your work demands automatic respect.  I often think that writers believe that they are superior beings for being able to write.  Every person has a skill at which they excel and for one group to believe that they deserve automatic respect for the product of that skill is ridiculous. 

    They deserve personal respect that they are skilled but the books themselves do not deserve automatic respect.  Authors must prove that their books deserve respect and they must prove it each time a new book is published.  This truth is constant for anyone who places themselves or their work out there for public consumption.

    I also have a difficult time viewing books as art.  I feel that they are entertainment in the same vein as music, television, and movies.  I don’t feel like they are in the category of Ansel Adams.  Like a previous poster, they can rise to that level but most are not.

  21. 21
    Rosemary says:

    When I first started photography, one of my mentors told me, “This is not your child on the wall.  I am not calling your child ugly.  I am saying that this is an unattractive photograph.  If you can’t let go of the emotions you’ve attached to the picture, you’ll never survive.”

    In a way, that’s the same way I view writing.  To compare the two, a book is a collection of photographs.  Just because there is one bad picture, doesn’t make it a bad collection, nor does a grouping of beautiful photographs mean that it is a cohesive collection.  And some people would rather see pictures of fluffy kittens than anything else, and if it isn’t a fluffy kitten, then it’s crap. 

    Yes, you (and I for that matter) put our heart and souls into the art we create, but you must must must be able to let go of the emotions brought about in the creative process if you are going to release it to the public for consumption.  Because it will be consumed.  Sometimes it will be loved, sometimes it will be spat back out on the plate in disgust.  But it is not your child that they are accepting or regecting, or merely acknowledging.  It is a product that you put out there for them to evicerate should they choose.  Because once you put it out there, it is just that.  A product.

    And if you are not willing to be judged, then don’t put your art in the public eye.  That is a hard lesson for most to learn, but it must be learned to survive.

  22. 22
    Lois says:

    I respect Laura Kinsale, I really do. She writes fascinating books, and what she had to say was thought provoking. But really, let’s look at this from the readers perspective too. When I pay for a book—and believe me I pay for my books and never go to a USB for them, mostly because there isn’t one in my neck of the woods—I want value for my money. I don’t want to read grammatically incorrect books no matter how much art was applied in the writing stages.

    So what? Do we now have to make excuses for those authors who seem not to give a huge hoo ha about punctuation, grammar, or anything else? Just get that book written and get it out there, hey, no one’s going to complain about sloppy writing, they’er just in it for the sex scenes anyway?

    And a huge caution here, folks, buy the books and let the sloppiness slide and eventually none of us will be able to get a bit of entertainment out of much of the stuff we read.

  23. 23
    Selah March says:

    Thank you, Laura. I enjoyed this essay. I don’t agree with every point, but I appreciate your passion and respect your talent.

    If my own blog ever stops giving me fits and lets me post again, I’ll address the one point upon which we differ most radically: I DO consider the reader as I’m writing. For me, writing is a conversation. If I thought no one would ever read my stories, they would cease to be as valuable for me.

    I know some people see that as heresy. (“You must write for the sake of WRITING.”) But for me, storytelling is the key. And “telling” implies someone on the other end, “listening.” Without that, it’s just so many echoes in an empty room. For me, at least. I understand that this is a totally individual experience.

  24. 24
    Robin says:

    I don’t know why (probably finals-induced psychosis), but when I was reading through these fascinating comments I had this image of Laura Kinsale (some image from the back of one of her books, at least) shaking her head, hair flying across her face, wondering aloud why none of us got what she was trying to say.

  25. 25
    Beth says:

    So what? Do we now have to make excuses for those authors who seem not to give a huge hoo ha about punctuation, grammar, or anything else? Just get that book written and get it out there, hey, no one’s going to complain about sloppy writing, they’er just in it for the sex scenes anyway?

    Am I the only one who blames the publisher and editor for these things? When I read a crap book, I automatically think “This crap got PUBLISHED?! What walking brainstem decided this was publishable???” Or I think “what, did the editor just decide it was ready by sniffing the pages instead of actually READING them??”

    When I think of the value of a book and the money I paid for it, I realize that I chose to put my money down on a chance – I chose to pay for the potential of being enthralled. I don’t pay to be enthralled, I pay for the possibility that it just might happen. I don’t get huffy about the money I “threw away” on a bad book – I get huffy that so many bad books keep getting published or I get huffy that an author blew a great chance to enslave me to his/her words. But I don’t mourn the loss of my dollars and cents all that much, because just as I don’t assign a monetary worth to a really great book (how could I? If I paid what some books were truly worth to me, I’d have to shell out several million just for like 2 Kinsales, for petesakes, and I don’t even wanna know how much I owe to Wodehouse), I likewise don’t have a measure for What I Expect For My Money. Because what I expect is to open the pages and see what happens. And that’s always what I get.

  26. 26

    Personally, I don’t think there’s anything incongruous about saying that writing is art and ALSO that you should think of your reader.

    This whole debate about whether it’s art and whether we’re being arrogant and “special” to call it art. . . Calling something art doesn’t mean that it’s GOOD. And it doesn’t mean you’d like it or that you would consider it art.

    From my dictionary: “The conscious use of skill and creative imagination esp. in the production of aesthetic objects.” Check.

    As to “fine art” vs. “commercial art”. Well, hell, I don’t know much about it. But if romance novels need to be defined. . . To me, commercial art means something produced for a specific client. (Is this wrong? Very likely.) “So, Jane Doe, how well do you like your heroes hung? Do you like ‘forced seduction’? What about pirates? What overall theme are you interested in? Okay, let me put something together for you and see what you think.”

    And fine art. . . I assume there’s some long-standing debate about what this means, so I won’t step into it, but I remember from all the trashy books I’ve read that most of the masters were supported by royalty and noblemen and still had an audience to please. They weren’t working in an artistic bubble.

    But it seems to me that we’re talking about mass-market art here. Something in between. It’s not created in agreement with a client, but that doesn’t mean we don’t think of the audience. Or the publisher. And you can choose to disregard quality and grammar, etc., but the reader will determine whether that is acceptable.

    To me, the actual writing is art, then the business comes after. The editing, the revisions, the blurbs and quotes and blogging.

    Blah, blah, blah. I’ll shut up now.

  27. 27

    Oh, wait. April said this really well a while ago. Ha!

    As to books being babies. . . I like this analogy. Because there are plenty of people out there who think their children are little golden haired angels. Perfect and undeniably brilliant. And it doesn’t matter how many other people think those kids suck. . . Sounds like some author-book relationships to me.

  28. 28
    Jane says:

    I took my ten page response to my blog because I wasn’t sure what the etiquette is of lengthy comments.  Suffice to say maybe I don’t have any idea of what Ms. Kinsale is saying as Robin suggested (not to me personally, of course), but I think every author would like to think that their book is art but thinking it doesn’t make it so.

  29. 29
    Lani says:

    I can’t imagine any phase of this process in which I wouldn’t consider the reader. The way I see it, the experience of storytelling requires the active participation of both writer and reader. My stories, without the readers, are only half finished. I bring the entertainment to the table, yeah. It’s more work for me to create the story than it is (God willing) for the reader to read my stories – sure. But without them, I’m not done.

    Do I read my reviews? Absolutely. Do I care what they say? Absolutely. Does it wound my very soul when someone hates the shit out of my book? Not so much. It just means that that person is not my reader. She is not the person who needs my story. Vice versa, there’s some stuff out there that’s not for me. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it, it just means I don’t get it. I heard great things about David Foster Wallace. I got one of his books, and about twenty pages in I discovered it wasn’t for me. I think pretty much everyone on the planet would argue that he’s a wonderful literary writer. He’s just not for me. So, when someone doesn’t care for a book I put out, I write it off.

    What matters to me most is when someone does like my book but thinks, perhaps, a certain storyline wasn’t done well enough, that an ending was too pat, that a character’s action didn’t ring true. These criticisms are exciting to me, because then – if I agree with them, and often I do – I can move into the next book with an eye toward improving that element of my craft. So, I need readers. I need input. My goal is to get better with every book, and without an objective eye taking a good look at what I do, that becomes a lot harder.

    What I don’t do is argue with readers. I don’t tell them they’re wrong, I don’t get upset if they don’t like me personally, and I’m not up nights devising ways to make them my friends. I blog with six other authors, and we all blog for the readers. Not other writers. Not our friends. The readers. Do we become online-friendly with them? Sure, if they’re cool and fun. Why not? But the author-reader relationship is, for me, one of service. And I like it that way. That’s the approach that works for me. I’m a blue-collar writer. My words don’t melt on anyone’s tongue, but my stories resonate. I think. I hope. I pray. When the readers who get me close my book, I want them to think, “Wow, that was worth the six bucks,” or whatever they paid for it.

    I’m not being deliberately humble or ingratiating, and I’m not trying to say that Laura is in any way wrong. We come to it from different places. I haven’t read Laura, but I’ve never heard from anyone who has closed one of her books and not felt it was money well-spent. So how she comes to her page and how I come to mine doesn’t matter, as long as the result is the same. If, from the reader’s perspective, it’s money well spent, then that’s the goal, right? For me, caring about the reader response helps me to do that. For Laura, not caring might be what helps her to do that. So, it’s all good.

    And for the record, I have no issue with people buying my books from UBSs or getting them at libraries. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t read me before, I encourage it. If I’m doing my job right, you’ll like it enough to maybe buy the next one. All I need to do is sell enough books with each release that I can get a new contract. I don’t care about making a load of money – I have the luxury of a working husband. I need to make some money, yes, and I’m doing that. The roof over my head might be leaky, but I have it. My kids might be eating spaghettios, but they’re eating. All the rest is gravy. I don’t mind being midlist, and I don’t mind buying my clothes at Wal-mart. It’s a privilege to be able to write, and I want to hold on to it as long as I can. If you’re not sure about me, about whether I’m worth the six bucks, then absolutely – hit the UBS or the library, and don’t for a moment feel guilty. That’s crap. It’s my job to earn your six bucks, and as a broke mother of two, I know how much six bucks is.

    But that’s another topic entirely, isn’t it?

    Anyway, I don’t mean to come off all sappy and bow-at-your-feet. This is just how I feel about the relationship, and it’s the only way I can come to the page with balance. So I hang onto it. Am I right? Only for me.

  30. 30
    Lani says:

    And this is my apology for the length of that last post. Yeesh! I can go on…

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top