Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Writer's Life - Issue 1

Hi all - in between publishing novels and shorts, MeNaSe Publications is adding a new (hopefully weekly) column, called Writer's Life. In it, our friendly writers share their tribulations and frustrations, and ramble on about what they're doing. They may even talk about their writing. The first of our Writer's Life columns goes to our newest writer, Ryuno!


The life of a novelist

by Ryuno

It kind of sucks, really.

Obviously, there's much more to it than merely going to coffee shops with the intention of doing what you could do at home or at work, thinking about your story all the time only to see that despite having a series/potential franchise planned with several spin-offs and everything you don't have more than a couple hundred words typed down yet, to settle for freelance or awful jobs that you know won't lead to a thing because that's the only way you can make your family stop worrying about your future, having several identical red notebooks filled with ideas to spawn enough franchises to make your next twelve generations filthy rich that will be rejected by publishers and agents when you finally get to compile them in volumes and then a visibly tired query letter.

There are the good things, too. While definitely not as many as the bad ones, some are really satisfying:

    The way your usually uninterested coworkers look up to your story even when the genre doesn't appeal to them (pretty much like you, to be entirely honest) and will try and give you ideas that you will definitely never use during lunch breaks, feeling passionate about the concept a book they'll never bother to read completely enough to pester you about it online almost a year after you left the job.

    The glory of not being appreciated in your own time, which ultimately leads to the illusory hope of this being an omen of your future acceptance by the next generations of readers.

    A handicap in comparison to other, say, jobless fellows: you are a novelist, a member of an ancient race of sages that must be protected from extinction regardless of your skills, even if only to guarantee your novel genes will be passed on to the next generation. Not a worthless human who doesn't do a thing, not at all.

It doesn't take a genius to see I am talking about the next generations a lot these days. Blame Zehava, my comrade and brother in arms; as one of the few persons I know who share my interest in the analysis of, say, anything (society included) we end up discussing ways of changing the world on a frequent basis. Before you ask, yes, most of them wouldn't be considered “healthy” by many, but then again, I digress: where were we?

Oh, yes. Novel-ing.

Writing a novel works like this: you just sit down and write it. That's it, everything else is not writing.

It's funny because that statement it's true in a very painful way: you plan ahead and research like there's no tomorrow, you crave for the tears and laughs of your characters and readers to the point of picturing small events that will only make sense at the very end of a series you barely began writing, you start treating your characters like people and people like characters and that annoys both parties to different extents, your nights are mostly sleepless and when you sleep you cannot get away from your setting, you cause direct damage to your body intentionally in order to achieve a state of mind where you can work properly (and by that I mean inducing hallucinatory feverish episodes. Drugs are bad, kids, you should know that by now because of He-man), you avoid daylight and relationships like the plague, you shall stop looking good or even acceptable without noticing, talking to other people will be an awful experience because the dialogue is too poor for your newly-acquired tastes and you'll even go as far as occasionally (in a very calculated manner) accepting invitations to go outside to both convince everyone you're not clinically depressed and to get new scenarios for your characters to look pretty in.

Still, that's not writing at all and that's mostly what we do.

I prefer to have the term “novelist” to “writer” applied to me because I hardly ever write, especially when you compare the time I spend analyzing my characters to the time I actually type words on this despair-inducing word processor screen. While stories could be written on one sitting, chances are against you if you are expecting the final result to be praised, published or even appreciated. It's not impossible and if you manage to do it successfully more than once allow me to shake your hand and offer you a drink with a large amount of arsenic out of pure envy and deep jealousy. No educated jury in the world would condemn me for that crime, I tell you that.

Then again, I am yet to witness an educated jury.

No, what I do is think of a way of playing Go with you when the readers believe we are playing chess, and then change the game when they start figuring out the rules. To draw patterns when you expect randomness and vice-versa, to give you what you didn't even know you wanted from the very beginning, to hide concepts your mind wasn't ready for within a thin blanket of references you don't really understand or cannot grasp the true form. My job is to teach you, to entertain you and to manipulate you in a way you'll like it.

No, not like that. I'm asexual; you all should know that by now, considering how often I have been saying that.

Novel writing really is about seduction, however. You are selling lies and more lies to people even when the story is being given for free: by delivering a written product to anyone (and even posting it on a blog you think no one reads counts as “deliverance”), you are assuring the reader that the text you wrote is, in fact, readable. They're willing to spend time reading your flawed manuscript and navigating through the micro-universe you created out of sheer nothingness, and by “nothingness” I mean the works of pretty much anything you experienced in your life including the books and movies you disliked the most. Your work is an escape, but it's less about the romantic “imagination travel” we were taught to seek in stories when we were kids and more like the lovers people seek when their own marriage-united counterparts and similar aren't enough.

Yes, I just called your treasured piece of work a mistress. Deal with it.

Life is a major female dog to us most of the time and if that sounds like “breaking news” to you then you, my fellow carbon-based life form, are just too innocent (and by that I actually mean “silly”) to notice it. It's a good thing, to be that innocent: keep doing it until you can't, best advice anyone can get you. Anyway, the reason people read books is to learn more about a topic they are not fully versed in. You don't know Physics and feel like learning it instead of hoping for the set of test answers you were going to buy from that shady guy on your classroom to be correct, you read a motherloving book or two on that subject: it's simple math and if it does not sound as simple to you, I'm positive there are books that can help you with that.

That justifies non-fiction, which is in my arrogant and elitist opinion the one “genre” that does not need justification because it's (supposedly) made of truth: the truth is the truth, whether you like it or not and even if you choose to take action ignoring it, it will pin you down at some point and laugh at you; try and successfully fly without mechanical apparatus, I double dare you. But then what about fiction? Why do people pay (and pay unreasonable prices when compared to the pulp magazine era) for the lies and delusions of puny people like themselves who do nothing with their lives other than having drinking problems and complaining about the adaptations of their works? Why do they read novels?

They read novels because, in some way, their life is incomplete and therefore sucks because anything short of perfection is, well, imperfect.

Talk about broken values.

And then you find a book that teaches you many new things while being more than you expect from non-fiction: it is entertaining. You may learn military jargon, how to cook, explosive-focused chemistry, how to make a fighting stance, about the life on a farm, hunting and camping when low on industrial resources, piloting an airplane, escaping a dungeon, taming a furious bull, writing a book (shocking, isn't it), riding a horse backwards, the history of jazz, how to use a dirty sock to defeat a menace from space, acting like a complete bastard to get all the girls, solve a crime, keep your mind straight when in the middle of war or tragedy, to sacrifice ourselves in order to defend what we believe to be a greater good and how to go all feminist and save the world while the charming prince watches you ride a motorcycle towards the sunset in a fabulous blaze of glory. This mistress of paper gave you moments of joy, fury and deep reflection you know you wouldn't achieve otherwise; in a way, you'll assume you actually needed it in order to be yourself. By that logic you'd never need to read another novel again because that one good novel you read should be enough for your life to be complete, is that correct?

Yes, it should!

No, not really. Sorry about that, I was just messing up with you again. The reason for this being a more complex matter than what meets the eye is simple: you just don't marry a mistress. It's the most stupid thing one could do, to vow loyalty and eternal love to someone you got involved with while you had the same bond with someone else. In this case, “pointless” doesn't even begin to describe how much of a waste of money, energy and saliva that would be. Chances are you are going to get fed up with this one too and find a new mistress soon enough, or even more likely find out your current wife is now someone else's mistress. Oh sweet and delicious karma, yet another concept we invented to feel better about ourselves either way the apparent randomness of Chaos decides to either throw us around or throw a bone.

That's why you'll get yourself another mistress of paper and yet another. Because your life will still be incomplete and there is always someone willing to write a similar story, even one that's so reminiscent of the one you liked to the point of spawning discussions and legal actions regarding plagiarism. Isn't that nice?

Have you wondered why am I telling you that? Of course, a valid hypothesis is that I am insane, which we all are to an extent and I happen to be a tad more than others and it shows. Another one is that I am trying to make you realize that the job of a good novelist is just wish-fulfillment.

Not the writer's, though; get yourself ready to start pandering like hell has broken loose.

You don't need to please everyone, but perhaps you should consider that possibility: you want your story to be a hit after all and unless you're aiming for a very specific, limited market such as, say, cross-dressing rodeo clowns, it's your obligation to make your story as universal as you possibly can even if it adds a 90's movie flavor to it. People with different awful lives will read your story and you want them to believe it's about them too. That's what people pay for, so deliver it.

They deserve it.

Those who work in jobs that hardly can be described as “acceptable” every day and don't dare asking for more excitement in their lives, but an interesting lie told properly by a complete stranger. A lie they can relate to and thus kill the vicious urge for a world with more colors of their own that grows within every soul. That's all they ask, and if you fail to deliver that you are not worthy of your position.

It's easy to see writing fiction is a burden not many can carry, a high risk career that sounds like gambling and very similar to what some consider being the first profession of the world (although I will argue there is no possible way prostitution could be the first, considering the other party would have nothing to trade for the professional's services if that was the case: chances are agricultural workers or hunters came first). There are, however, a few glories that can come of it, and amongst them the most refined pearl a human can dig: the power to shape the future by giving dreams to the people of today.

Yes, writing sucks. But I don't think I would trade it for anything else.

Would you?

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