Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Do You Write For?

One of the questions you get as a writer is "Who do you write for? Do you write for yourself, or do you have an ideal reader in mind, or whatever?" I always felt that was one of those questions that starts with a wrong premise, where you can't answer because its startpoint involves an assumption that just doesn't make sense for you. Like, do I write for myself? Not really. My noggin is just the noggin I debug and beta test the code on. I mean, I'll give any example of this program we call narrative a read-through when it's done, to see if it runs OK, but I'll also be doing that for passages throughout, while I'm writing, in this process of debugging we call "editing." So sure, I write stories I'd like to read, but when I've written a story myself, it's not like I can wipe my memory and experience that narrative as a reader who's just happened upon something to fit their tastes. Do I have an ideal reader? Not really. When someone hits me with that question, I'll sometimes talk about growing up a dorky queer kid in small town Scotland under Thatcher, about how I think of the analogues out there now, some kid stuck struggling with his sexuality in East Bumfuck, Iowa, the sort of kid I made my It Gets Better video for. How I do hope to give him the represenation I yearned for myself at that age--a queer hero sat firmly at the front seat of the bus called story, access to a water fountain of narrative that's not segregated off on the other side of the street, across from the one that all the straights get to go to, the one with the "No Gays" sign above it. But that's why I publish, really. If that kid is the type to throw VELLUM across the room at page 50, cause what the fuck is this crazy cubist crock of shit, this isn't Tolkien for homos?!... if what I'm writing is not for them, I'm not going to compromise. They're not the boss of me. I'm out to write the story that wants to be written; that's what shapes what I write--simply the sense that the story itself wants to take a certain shape. But then we start getting into all that following the muse wank. What does that even mean, the story that wants to be written? There is no magical inspiring goddess or daimon. A story is not some metaphysical sentient entity hijacking my mindthoughts as a portal into reality. Talking of inspiration like that is speshul snowflake cockfluffery. Fuck that shit. Yes, it sorta feels like the story "wants" to be a certain way, but muses, daimons, personfying the story... these are just figurative articulations we fall back on because, hello, writer. Figurative articulation is what we do. So it seems to me what's wrong with the question is it requires an answer of that sort. It assumes some sort of boss figure that I'm writing to satisfy. And that's bullshit for me. Writing is a craft, an art if it's done well enough. And that means there's shit that works and shit that doesn't. There's shit that works really fucking well. And there's shit that you think couldn't possibly work--could it? or maybe it could?--and suddenly you're realising it might be impossible--who the fuck could do that?--but if you can pull it off it would work fucking awesomely. And you give it a go without giving a fuck about some imaginary boss somewhere out there, or inside, who you're bound to serve as some pandering lickspittle. You just want to try out this idea, and if it works, it'll be for whoever the fuck wants to buy it. I mean, do people ask chefs, "Who do you cook for? Are you cooking for yourself, or do you have an ideal gourmet in mind?" Don't we just imagine that the chef, one day, realises that, hey, duck and orange would go really well together! So they try it, and if it works, they put it on the menu. For whoever. Sure, they're going to be taste-testing throughout their experiments in perfecting the dish. And at the end of it, they'll have a nice duck a l'orange to enjoy. But we don't assume that the chef who comes up with a dish like that is in thrall to their own peculiar tastes. We don't imagine there's a self they're cooking for that has duck as its #1 fave food and orange as #2. We don't imagine the chef is thinking, "If only I can find some way to combine those two things, I will be able to satisfy my boss me's duck fandom and orange fandom and it'll be everything boss me has ever dreamed of!" Nor do we imagine, surely, that the chef is thinking, "You know what Egon Ronay loves? Duck! You know what he also loves? Orange! And, like, Egon Ronay is my ideal gourmet! If I can just please him, well, that's everything I aspire to. So I must see if I can't figure out a way to just nail a duck/orange dish, cause that would make him cream his pants!" Maybe some chefs operate along those lines. But it sounds utterly wack to me. I imagine someone throwing a question rooted in those sort of presumptions at a chef, and I imagine the chef just looking at them like they're crazytown. Why would that be the default notion of how a chef operates, rather than the idea that, you know, duck has a certain flavour--rich, heavy, dark--that is really well balanced on the palate by something sweet and tangy like orange? Why would the default notion not be that these things just go together really fucking well? That the chef as a craftsman, as an artist, gets to know their toolkit of stuff and stuff-you-can-do-with-stuff well enough that they' start thinking of combos, and they realise, fuck, I have to try that because if it works the way I think it will, it'll be great. To me, that's the driving force in my writing too. There is no "who" that I'm writing for. I'm just savvy enough with my toolkit that when an idea comes along it captures me with the potential of how well it could work if I can pull it off. I talk about that figuratively, as having a sense of the story that wants to be written, but there's no great mystical force dispensing inspiration and demanding obeisant service to it. I'm not out to pander to my personal set of tastes; if anything, I'm looking to expand them, find some way to use... my literary equivalent of brussels sprouts, some twist by which, in context, in the dish, that's exactly what's needed. I don't give a shit about whether or not the ideal reader likes or dislikes second person. And I was, as a youngster, in the camp of those who didn't really care for it. At all. If I was writing for myself or for some ideal reader, I'd never have used it. But that's not how it works for me, not how it's ever worked. So at some point along the way, on the basis of craft/art savvy, (like how second person works in poetry, or in that one Ray Bradbury story, "The Ravine,") I hit on one way to use this rather unpopular flavour that just had to be tried. And it worked. And I put it on my menu of stories for anyone who cares to buy and try. Anyone. If they hate it, fuck it: so it goes; there'll always be someone who maybe hasn't acquired a specific taste--e.g. whisky--that's a linchpin of how the recipe works. If someone hates the taste of oranges, it doesn't change the fact that duck a l'orange works. No, I'm not going to try and second-guess some specious conceit of an Authoritative Arbiter, self or other, that I'm out to please. The only way I could do that anyway is by learning the subtleties of the stuff and the stuff you can do with stuff, figuring out how they work individually and how they do, would, should or could work together. If we're into the territory of "should and could," drawn by the potential of something that ought to be awesome if you can only pull it off, the uncertainty of succeeding in surprising the fuck out of people is part of the adventure. You're working against the utter obliviousness of an audience of every single person you're aware of, including yourself, who apparently never thought of trying this before, and if asked in principle would quite probably expect it to be a complete failure. But you know. You fucking know if you can nail it, it'll be awesome, and somewhere out there someone, anyone, should someday be able to stumble across it and be blown away. Who might that be? Who gives a fuck? Whoever.


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