Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Writer's Conundrum

There are many aspects of the writing life that I didn't expect when I started writing seriously. How to think like a writer. What do to with all the ideas that flood your brain when thinking like a writer becomes second nature. The nuts and bolts of the craft. Meeting other writers and finally feeling like I belong somewhere. Finding mentors. Bonding with fellow rookies so we can make the journey less painful. Supporting your friends by buying and reading their work.

It's this last bit that's given me some trouble over the past four months or so.

Sometimes when you meet someone you know immediately that you'll be friends. Last year at Gen Con I met Pat Rothfuss. I found him to be warm, kind, intelligent, and funny. His first book had just been released and had been generating a good amount of buzz in the industry. His dust jackets carry some serious blurbage. I didn't care about any of that--I just knew that I wanted to be friends this guy with the funky beard that could laugh at himself and others with equal abandon. And of course I wanted to support him so I bought his book. I didn't get to it right away. And then I found out Pat had been nominated for a Quill Award. And his Amazon ranking was in the top 1000. Fans wrote him truly moving letters about what his book meant to them.

I read the prologue five times. I couldn't read any further. I wasn't that I didn't like it or that I didn't find it interesting. The dust-jacket blurb reeled me in further every time I read it. I wanted to read it. I wanted to love it. It took me a while to figure out why I couldn't get past the first page.

I'm a deep reader. What I mean by that is, I invest myself fully into a story or book or series. When I read Robert Jordan's books, I dream I can channel. When I read Harry Potter, I dream about meeting Voldemort face-to-face. When I read Scott Lynch I dream I'm con-artist; when I read Steven Brust I dream I'm a knife-throwing assassin; when I read Kelly McCullough I dream I can whistle in code. I laugh out loud. I cry. I tense up at the scary parts. My heart beats faster during sex scenes. I've been known to throw a book out of anger. I wonder what daemon my friends would have if we lived in Phillip Pullman's world. I've posted on message boards. I've written Steven King a fan letter.

And this is why I couldn't read Pat's book. I was afraid I'd like it too much. Somehow I couldn't reconcile being friends with Pat while being a geeky fan. I didn't want to idolize him. I wanted to be able to buy a round of drinks and talk about politics and pop culture and his blood fued with Anton Strout without thinking in my head, "Dude, you're sitting next to the guy who wrote The Name of the Wind." It bothered me, because let's face it, if I were any sort of friend at all I'd read the damn thing. But the nature of Pat's success coupled with my tendency to geek out over books I love ... well. The picture it conjured didn't look pretty.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore. I e-mailed Pat and told him my thoughts. He responded right away (and I paraphrase here): "What's wrong with being a fan and a friend? I don't have many of those." I'm not lying when I say it felt like I'd just gotten permission to love his book. And oddly, permission to hate it, as well.

I'm on Chapter Five. I'll let you know how it turns out.


Kelly McCullough said...

That's actually kind of the way I felt about Steve Brust for a number of years. We weren't close friends, but we'd done a couple of Ren Fest type shows together and I didn't want the theater guy I'd had a couple of drinks with to turn into an AUTHOR for me. Then I read them and got over it. I love some of Steve's stuff and don't love some of it, and it really had no effect on the other stuff at all. After you've been doing this for a while you get used to divorcing how you feel about the work from how you feel about the writer. It's a strange old process.

Kelly Swails said...

I'm getting there. I've only recently started to get over the "let's figure out how the author wrote this book while line-editing it" sort of business. I'm getting to where I enjoy reading again. Hopefully soon I'll be able to seperate the friend from the author better.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, X. Great exploration.

Kelly Swails said...

Thanks, Sean!

Anonymous said...

I must say, that as a writer, the reaction I hope to get from my friends who read my work is, "Holy crap, you wrote that? I didn't know you had it in you! That's awesome!"

It would not change my feelings about them as friends at all.

I, too, have a hard time reading friends' work, but I think it has a lot more to do with my fear that I won't like it. How do you not gush to your friend about their writing? But how do you lie to a friend about something so important?

Kelly Swails said...

I'm okay with not liking someone's work, and I'd be okay with telling them so (ever-so-gently, of course). Because, frankly, who the hell am I? I'm just one person. Of course I'd rather love it and be all gushy about it. There's a difference in my mind between loving a friend's work and idolizing an author, and that was the trap I didn't want to fall into.