I’ve been writing fiction—or at least trying to—for about a decade now (plus or minus a couple years, depending on how you count it). After that span of time, most of what I now read, it touches me so profoundly that I have to put a fist through a wall just so I don’t lose my mind out of sheer boredom.
In other words, I don’t fall in love with much of anything anymore.
For example, I just started Ship of Magic by acclaimed fantasy author Robin Hobb. I picked up the book, because Robin Hobb once gushed over Holly Lisle’s Talyn, which I adored. I figured, if Robin knows good stuff when she reads it, maybe she’s written some good stuff, too. Besides, the story sounded like it might engage me. So I cracked open Ship of Magic. And somewhere on page one, I actually put myself into “line-editing” mode, reading for grammar and punctuation instead of for content— because for the fun of it, that’s why!
No, but seriously, folks, I knew from the first line: “Kennit walked the tideline, heedless of the salt waves that washed around his boots as they licked the sandy beach clean of his tracks.” If the main character was “heedless” of those 18 words, they probably didn’t need to be included at all, and surely not in the first sentence of the story. Shortly thereafter, I put myself into line-editing mode just so I could occupy my mind during the introductory “Who the hell cares!?” and make it to the actual story part of the novel, which started to pick up round about page 8, at which point I took a break.
We’ll see whether I make it the rest of the way through this book. It’s not starting on the right foot. Unfortunately, this is my standard experience with books nowadays, books of all stripes, genres, and backgrounds.
So you can imagine, when I happen to run across a story that captivates me, that enchants me, that moves me, and makes me feel like I know its characters and that these characters matter to me…
You can imagine, I get a little emotional. And “Too Shiny for a Ladybird” is one such story. I mentioned this story over the weekend, as one of my #FridayFlash Favorites. From the first paragraphs, I was delving deeply into the main character’s psyche, feeling the pieces of her life fall into place and out of place, reveling in her eventual transformation.
Unfortunately, the very next day, author Rachel Carter revised this story, in the process ripping out the character development that had so entranced me. And that’s what I told her. Even though all her homeys seem to think that her revised version is better than the original, silly me, I actually told her about her story through my eyes.
You won’t be able to read my comments, however, because she deleted them from her blog, simultaneously posting about how some “comments have to go,” because they come “at the expense of someone else’s enjoyment of life” and “stamp on people’s dreams.”
Yeah, that was me, prodigal of enjoyment, stamper of dreams.
I’m not sure what I wrote that upset her so, because she’s not talking to me about it, and I’m not asking. Even so, I couldn’t stop wondering, the possibilities flipping through my mind.
Maybe because I said her original story was wonderful?
Yes, it’s possible, if she identifies with the later revision, which would never have made it onto my Favorites list. She herself thought the original felt “clumsy and unpolished.”
I for one feel distaste when someone compliments me on an old story that I now think sucks. Because I feel I’ve come so far since then. All the effort I’ve put into the past 10 years, did it mean anything? If what I churned out back then was “good” enough, then why did I bother?
Remember the episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye keeps reading about “incredibly average Vernon Parsons” in his hometown newspaper, and it twists his back into the shape of a question mark? As it turns out, “incredibly average Vernon Parsons” is receiving accolades and grants for playing with research mice back home, while Hawkeye labors in obscurity sewing together soldiers near the Korean front.
At the end of the episode, Colonel Potter tells Hawkeye, “I think maybe you haven’t made up your mind how you feel about being over here feeding the fleas… even though you’re not ‘incredibly average’… It’s too big a world for me to be in competition with everybody else. The only guy I have to be better than is who I am right now, and in your case, that’s tough enough.”
Truthfully, 10 years ago, I thought I was improving my writing skills so that I could write well, so I could be accepted by an audience. Now, I realize that I’ve only been refining my writing skills, not improving them, and only so that I could accept myself. Anything more will only tie my back up in knots. The world’s too big for me to be in competition with Stephanie Meyer, whom I may never respect as a writer. And that’s okay. The only person I have to be better than is who I am right now, and in your case, that’s tough enough.
Maybe because I talked down to her?
At one point, I did act like a character expert—Yeah, I know, why would I do that?—and said that she must have “accidentally stumbled onto” that wonderful characterization.
While I wouldn’t necessarily take that as an insult, I could see how someone might. Certainly, I might feel slighted if someone said to me that I “accidentally stumbled onto” brilliance that reads like a scene from Twilight. I would hope I’d laugh it off, knowing that there are some who genuinely enjoyed Twilight (and then there are others who enjoy well-written stories).
But the real potential joy happens when you stumble into a new way of writing a story. I occasionally do, and I probably will continue to for as long as I continue to write. It’s a wondrous experience to discover some new way to touch someone else’s life, no matter how the discovery comes about. Because we’re all different, and part of the magic of self-discovery as a writer is finding new ways to connect with others.
Maybe someday, I’ll even figure out how to connect with people who like Twilight.
Maybe because I implied that my style of fiction is better than hers?
Because to me, it is better. Just as her style of fiction is better to her than mine is to me. Just as yours is better to you, and every other writer’s is better to him. Each of us is on his own journey, and the best we can hope is that we happen to share the same road once in a while and relate to each other our experiences.
Probably, she’s upset because I said that she didn’t seem to value the same qualities as I do in a story. “And from my perspective,” I said, “that’s sad.”
If that ain’t the worst putdown, I don’t know what is. I’m almost sorry for saying it. Almost.
It’s her blog. She can post any stories she wants and censor any comments she wants. (I do the same.) But this is my blog, and I’m going to try to explain to you why this is so important.
I’m not sorry about using the word sad. Because “sad” is what I meant, sad in the purest, most innocent sense of the word. It truly is sad when you think you’ve found a kindred spirit on that journey, only to discover the wonderful prospect was just a misunderstanding.
Here’s the moral of this tale: Most of us spend all our effort shouting across crowded highways at those who are racing past on the other side, all but ignoring those few who are walking the very same path as we. If you happen to find that kindred spirit, who is walking the same path as you, value her, swoon over her, do everything you can reasonably do to support her. Because kindred spirits are few and far between, even among authors.