Daily Aphorism: A blog is a kind 0f linguistic crotch shot: no matter how you shave your message, only the perves are going to get it.
Okay. So I finally had a chance to troll through the comments. I feel like such a loser for not replying individually, but like I say, I really need to police the amount of time I spend on this thing. With Ruby, I literally only have seven hours a day with which to: A) read the paper (the single most important thing a writer can do, I think); B) write my ‘eight hundred’ words; C) look after book related sundries; and D) keep up with my reading.
Only (C) feels like work, though more and more (D) has felt progressively more labourious – frighteningly so.
Out of the comments, the one that tweaked me the most was the question of what constituted ‘challenging.’
Of all the ‘thou shall not’s’ you run into in this business, I’ve never been able to understand the prohibitions against ‘messages’ and ‘didactics.’ These embargos, it seems to me, assume that the only good writing is the kind of writing that doesn’t alienate anybody whatsoever. The problem is never whether a book has a message or information–the problem isn’t even whether that message or information alienates readers–the problem occurs when that message or information alienates too many readers for your work to be commercially viable. Though the jury’s still out, I think this very well might the case with Neuropath.
There is no cosmic antithesis between having something to say and good writing, no law of consciousness or psychophysics. None whatsoever. It really boils down to running and managing risks with real readers. And, as with most risks in this business, it primarily turns on the question of execution. For instance, no matter what you think of The Da Vinci Code, you have to admit Dan Brown has a knack for filtering large amounts of information through relatively spare plots and prose–and this is what makes his work so interesting to so many readers. And what makes him, in my books, more culturally relevant and ‘disruptive’ than a thousand Tom McCarthy’s preaching to a thousand literary choirs.
Some books give you information that is challenging. Some books give you morals or messages that are challenging. Some books simply open challenging spaces for the reader to fall into–what I try to accomplish with my fantasy novels. The difference between these books and those that simply aim to entertain, either by thrilling you with action, soothing you with sentiment, or flattering you with little intellectual and aesthetic buzzes, is that they leave a mark. Either they teach you something you didn’t know, snip this or that idealogical tendon, shake your confidence in implicit assumptions, or leave you puzzled by problems you didn’t even know existed. These are the books that DO something, not to airy-fairy formal abstractions like ‘genre’ and ‘culture,’ but to real readers.
So that when you hear a politician blather about ‘individual responsibility’ as though it were as plain as the nose on your face, as opposed to horrifically occult and complicated, you have a second thought. So that when you hear a given argument for the one thousandth time, you actually pause and listen for the first. So that you question ideology, liberal or conservative, not when you see it in others, but in yourself, because you have a greater sense of human foibles, and you have been reminded of the stupendous, conceit-defeating complexity of this thing we call life.
Books that ‘challenge’ are the ones that prick and poke at the pinhole we call human perspective, worrying the edges, so that more light shines out and in. Ones that help us think one thought too many.
This is why I’ve always taken the polarity of the responses I get to my work as a kind of yardstick of success. I am proud to be a ‘love him or hate him’ author. Just how much a book challenges depends on the individual psychology and life history of the reader. There is no such thing as an Ideal Interpretation, just what happens as a result of actual readings. For some of my readers, I’m sure I’m nothing more than another entertainer, with scarcely a thing to say that they haven’t heard and dismissed before. For others, I’m sure I’m just a pompous bore who happens to have mildly interesting yarn in the works. I’ll be damned if I don’t keep on trying to freak all of them out somehow, but in the meantime, it all comes down to the aggregate.