Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts on the Craft Redux -- cannegardner

From the Guardian
April 9, 2009

How much do authors owe their readers?
Readers can become very proprietorial about books, but authors' imaginations need to remain their own.

"It's a sweet anticipation, awaiting your favourite author's latest book, or better yet, the next in a gripping series: that longing to know what lies in store, tinged with the fear that things might not go the way you secretly wish.

For George RR Martin fans, however, enough was enough. After announcing yet another push-back on the completion of A Dance of Dragons, the latest volume in his fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the author admitted on his blog to finding himself facing a "
rising tide of venom", as frustrated readers deluged his inbox with complaints. They took him to task for watching football, going on holidays, and "wasting time" on other writing projects, as well as toying with his own mortality by being "60 years old and fat".
It's only natural for readers to feel a certain possessiveness over the characters with whom they spend so much time – but what exactly does an author owe his or her audience? And where does this responsibility start and end?

Some would argue that authors simply owe their readers an ending; a sense of narrative closure...

Read full a article here."
This is a very sensitive subject, apparently. I have seen readers slam authors for killing characters, making characters gay, and generally writing a book in a way the readers didn't want it to be written. I have seen readers assume that the fictional events were fact, and that the narrators of books were actually the authors.

As an author, I do feel a certain loyalty to readers who have taken a chance on my work. I owe them a debt of gratitude. They trust me, and I trust them. I trust them to accept me, no matter what I write. I trust that when they read my work that they will remain objective and understand that the story is fictional, a mixed metaphor for whatever message I am trying to convey at that moment, and that the emotions used to construct the story are invariably my own. I may call to mind the emotion of someone else, but the interpretation is my own. I also trust that they understand that those emotions are culled from years of personal experience and do not necessarily correlate literally to a scene in one of my books. I may have written about the suicide of a husband in The Kissing Room, but I have never lost a husband to suicide. I lost my father very young to cancer, and lost many friends and lovers to drug and alcohol addiction, so the emotion of loss is very real to me, but the circumstance in the book is fictional.

This can be true of our favorite characters in literature: we have lived with them; we think we know them; we connect with them; but in reality, we are really connecting with the reflective images and echoes of various parts of ourselves. The characters are fictional. As a reader, I have no right to dictate how they grow or how the author designs each individual character's psyche. They are the artistic renderings of an author's experience merged with their imagination. Do we as readers have the right to alter them, to steal them away and make them our own, to insist that they belong to us. I think not. Authors grow and change, just as their stories and characters do. They mature with time, and even though they may not mature the way we, individually, want them to, does that diminish the writer or the stories they write? Again, I have to agree with the Guardian here ... no, it doesn't. The only thing that seems to diminish is our ability to accept change. To quote the Guardian article: "We might occasionally wish to tear into the authors' imaginary worlds and take up control of their characters, but reaching into an author's home life to dictate what, how, and when they should write is surely a step too far."

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Anonymous said...

In this day and age it has, unfortunately, become generally acceptable for the masses to assume a stance of entitlement. Why this is, is beyond me. Perhaps I am too old fashion, but the mass frenzy of instant gratification has never taken a hold of me. The Internet age public, however, is more than clear about what it wants; especially the latest-and-greatest-frenzy-driven social networking sites users. And it is not only instant gratification they are after, but also an ever-growing degree of involvement in a project, be it movies, music, or literature. I've seen reviewers harassed by readers and authors who disagreed with the reviewers' opinions, I've seen authors harassed by readers, even actors and musicians receiving hate mail when fans did not like a certain aspect of their latest work. There are those who succumb to the pressure, which, in my opinion, only feeds the fire and sets higher expectations for involvement in future projects. Then, there are those who do not take the whining masses into account and progress on their own road, the way they want to. One great example, albeit not literature related, is Chris Cornell. His latest album is a radical departure from the music he has become known for, however, his rock vocals work amazingly well in his new project. I recently heard an interview where he was asked whether he considered how disappointed the Soundgarden fans might be, and he simply answered that it has been so long since that project and it is time for people to get over it. (Not in those exact words, but that's what I recall.)

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thank you for the post. Yes, many musicians see similar backlash from fans. One of my personal favorites "Tool" has had that happen to them.

On the book side of it, Jeff Lindsay, writer of Dexter, saw that sort of backlash with his third book in the series, which I thought to be Dexter's and Lindsay's finest hour. Lindsay took a radical departure from the Snarky cop drama to really explore the darkness in a surreal parallel storyline. It was bizarre and truly brilliant. For those who have not read it, I highly recommend it.

Emily Veinglory: said...

I had the honor of meeting George RR Martin once and he is a charming and unassuming man. Anyone bitching at him really needs to learn how to pick a more deserving target of their bile.