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End of Days

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I’ve been thinking about the comments from yesterday, and I think I need to find a better way to get some of my ideas across.

I’m not looking for admiration from readers–I like it if I get it, and it’s always fun, but that’s not the requirement.

What I require is that a reader understand what a writer is, and what a writer is not.

Have it your way is a great slogan for Burger King.  It’s a terrible slogan for a writer.  Writers write what they write because it’s what they write–it’s what happens to them when they start putting things down on paper.

In the textbook we use for English 102, there’s a little section in one of the introductory chapters about “formula fiction” and how the writers’ only purpose for writing it is to make money, and blah and blah and blah.

The person who wrote this  has absolutely no idea whatsoever  how writers in the genres actually write, or even what kind of money the make.

He seems to think all the genres operate like category romance, with tip sheets and editors demanding that the first sex scene occur on manuscript page 25 and the  hero never be so mebody with red hair.

He also has a completely risible idea of how much money everybody is making, and seems to believe that, by using these tip sheets and formulas, publishers can predict in advance just how well or badly any particular book will do.

I think there are special  minions in publishing houses trying to call up demons from the deep who will let them do that–but well, you know.

In the meantime, if starving in a garret was the standard for what makes a great writer, Lovecraft would probably outdo anybody else who has ever written fiction in the United States.

Still, what that chapter is talking about is exactly what I’m complaining about in readers who seem to think writers are some kind of service providers.

It’s also one thing for clueless textbook writers to view genre writers like that, and another for fans of the genre to do it.

No genre will  last for long if its readers universally–or even substantially–come to insist that the writers within it be mindless and soulless and produce only what is demanded.

No fan of any genre has to admire any particular writer, or to buy what she doesn’t care to read.

But whether you admire a writer’s work, or hate it, whether you buy it or  not. it’s important to understand that it wasn’t written to  make you or anybody else happy, it was written because it was what the writer had to write.

And now I am just saying the same thing over and over again, so I think I ought to quit.

Written by janeh

July 26th, 2013 at 9:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'End of Days'

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  1. Very few critics seem to have any understanding of writing as a business or a profession, nor are they interested in learning. Focusing on (supposed) motivation means they don’t have to consider content. And again we see the faux-aristocratic contempt of those who expect to be paid for their work.

    I am, truthfully, less concerned with picky readers than with critics unable to broaden their horizons and with editors and publishers convinced they know exactly what will and won’t sell. Readers can SAY they want exactly this or won’t put up with that, but the outstanding best-sellers of the past century or so have been works which WEREN’T what readers were already experiencing and demanding. Critics and publishers follow along behind inventing adjectives (“Lovecraftian”) and genres–Mystery, Science Fiction, Regency, Techno-thriller, among others–to describe the new creation and its imitators. So far as I can see, readers seem quite happy to buy something new, whatever some of them might write. But if the publisher won’t print anything new, we’ll never know, will we?

    The petition to save BEAUTY AND THE BEAST said that we expected the writers “to continue to surprise and delight us.” That’s about right.

    Otherwise, two hedges. First, I can certainly document writers whose choices of genre, story length and tone were influenced by money, and why not? I do note that it seems harder to change interests. Second, if you can write something worth reading within the constraints of a sonnet, I find it very hard to believe you can’t write something worthwhile within the constraints of tip sheets. That’s not to say many people do, but most of the books written without tip sheets also disappear without a trace.

    As for the life of a genre–depends. Not many westerns these days, and sea stories aren’t what they were when MOBY DICK came out. But from here, the stories of war and adventure seem to be going quite strong more than 2,500 years after Homer. Ask me again about mystery, romance and science fiction in about 100 years.


    26 Jul 13 at 5:53 pm

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