I had dinner with a couple of friends this weekend and one of them is working on a novel and we’ve been talking about it, because I really love both to talk about writing and to hear other people talk about writing. I spend a lot of time talking about my process here because I gorge myself on other people’s process posts.
See, the thing is that I’m used to being the “good student.” You tell me what you want me to do and I will fucking nail it or die trying. But my whole adult life has been a struggle to figure out how best to be good at the things I want to do when there is no set way of doing things–when you have to figure out what you want to do, how you’re going to try to do it, and how you’ll recalibrate if it doesn’t work how you want it. Basically, trying to move from a paradigm were failure means it’s over to one where failure is just how you learn what doesn’t work.
So, I like seeing what works for other people. I like thinking about what works for me. (For instance, I subscribe to Duotrope* and right now my strategy is to submit a.) to markets that are on their top 100 of pickiest markets and/or b.) markets I like or am curious about. I don’t know why, but being rejected by hard markets somehow sucks less.)
Wow, so, this was a long prelude to my point. But here we go. My friend’s novel has a kind of silly premise. But the points he’s making, the ways he’s drawing up his characters and setting them loose in the world is really, really thought provoking. (What I mean by silly is more like “In a world where vampires are real, a cheerleader will save us!” and not “It’s a comedy novel.”) So, you know a couple of years ago, I went to that awesome panel at the Southern Festival of Books which was a funny horror writer and a comedy writer who writes about horrible things, and it made me really aware of how comedy and horror are close siblings, and, in fact, how you almost need one in order to have the other.
And now this conversation has me thinking about the ways that a strain of silliness makes room for seriousness. And it makes me wonder if the presence of the fanciful (maybe that’s a better word than silly) acts as a kind of signal to the reader that we’re in a story, so that the serious stuff has room to work behind our defenses. I mean, not many of us–let’s be honest–want to real all about class struggles in Britain and how they affect children, but we care that Hermione’s parents are muggles and we don’t want her to feel like she doesn’t belong at Hogwarts.
It’s not like it’s a clear allegory. And I think allegories eventually feel thin (sorry, Narnia). But you see what I mean about letting the serious slip past your defenses?
*Did we talk about this, now that it’s $50 a year? Which means, in years I don’t sell anything or sell only one thing, but for less than that, they’re making more money from my writing than I am? And how I have mixed feelings about this? And how it’s made me decide that, bless many other hearts, Duotrope is the only writing-related expense in my life? I mean, I plan on recalculating this. Don’t get me wrong. If there were some way for me to do Clarion, well, I’m not a fool. Of course I’d jump on it, even though it’s much more money than my writing earns and even may earn after that. But at this stage in my “career,” I just don’t want to pay someone else so that I can be a writer.