What I’m Learning

I was just saying in an email that the thing that’s kind of blowing my mind about writing these ghost stories and then getting your reaction from them is that, even though I have a master’s degree in literature, I feel like I knew nothing important about fiction before taking on this project and hearing back from you.

It’s hard for me to articulate, exactly, what it is that I’m learning, probably because I’m in the middle of it.  But part of it is this–I feel like I was trained to believe that everything in a story has meaning, and that understanding that meaning, often by using critical tools, is the first task of a good reader. (I’m not saying that that’s what the people who trained me were trying to train me to think, but that’s what I took from it).

But now I get that the most important question, at least the one that matters between an author and an audience is, “Does it work?” When I tell you a story, are you entertained?”

And I’m deeply flattered by all the comments people have made about how real the stories sound. As the person who wrote that, I love it.  I have to be honest with you, though, nothing has prepared me for that reaction, for the delight and concern about it seeming too real.  And I don’t know what to make of it. I’ve sat around plenty thinking about stories that, for whatever reason, don’t seem real and I’ve tried to understand what it is that doesn’t sit right–after all, if it’s all make-believe, why should I find this one thing completely plausible and this other thing somehow outside the bounds of what should happen?

But I’ve never thought about crossing that line the other way, about how unsettling it can be, even when you know a story is made up, to have it feel too real.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that being unsettled is a good reaction to a ghost story.  But this is really interesting to me and not something I’ve ever thought about.  I mean, even when you hear about the initial reactions to, say, War of the Worlds, you study it as a kind of “Oh, look at the idiots! How many there are.” moment. Like how could all these people believe something that is clearly fictional?

But y’all who have said that you know they’re fake and still find it cool and weird how real these stories feel have me thinking that there’s something going on here that’s more complicated than “Only dipshits can’t tell fact from fiction.”

I don’t know.  I don’t know what to make of it.

I just feel like, for everything I thought I understood about stories, it’s done little to prepare me for what I’m learning now.

And I am really enjoying it, I just have to say, really tickled by your delight. I know we’re only a week into it, but this is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done while blogging and I’m really grateful to y’all for indulging me.

16 thoughts on “What I’m Learning

  1. Masters in Lit? Want to teach an online Lit course for Roane State? I can probably set that up, then you could be Professor B.

  2. I’m just loving them so much. I think one of the neatest things about these is that most (all?) are based in some fact and known legend. In fact, I KNOW they’re fake but even I keep forgetting they’re not real.

    Personally I think when you’re done with October, you should investigate the possibility of publishing them in a little book. Seriously.

  3. Ha, ha, ha, Casey. I’m sure your students are just dying to discover the very little I know. Professor B. does have a nice ring to it, though.

    Lynnster, a little book would be cool.

  4. I was also going to suggest publishing the ghost stories as a collection. So I third Lynnster’s suggestion, but I want it clear that I also thought of it myself. Not for my own credit, but so that B is clear that there are at least two readers who are that impressed.

  5. All right. Let’s hold off on the “publish them” chatter until the end of the month when the whole thing is done. It could be that the rest of them suck monkey butts.

  6. I feel so left out. I thought of it on my own, too. *pouts*

    as a reader and a writer I love to see other writers (especially ones who slogged through college lit classes) come to that conclusion about the reader-author contract.

    Lit classes are like dissecting fetal pigs. Writing fiction should be like making pork dishes. You’re cooking up something delicious to be enjoyed whether it’s a bacon sandwich or a roasted pork loin with cranberry ginger reduction over a walnut and chive dressing.

    So much fiction by Trained Authors reads like the writer is so busy trying to recap the pig’s anatomy that they forget to turn the oven on.

    And thus ends the worst analogy in the history of mankind.

  7. I want it on the record that I already talked to B about this paper book version on Saturday. I have visions of cool things to be done with maps and other illustrations.

  8. *I* want it on record that I’ve been asking B to write more fiction since she was an undergraduate, slogging through my lit class.
    Seriously, B, I think that all critics should have to write creatively. That’s not to say they’d be good at it, just that they’d understand it in a very different way.
    And I know from the reaction to my memoir that people have just as much difficulty thinking about nonfiction in a literary sense as they do when fiction seems real in the factual sense.
    But oh, yes, I’m digging them…

  9. I tried, nm, to think of a kosher thing we dissected in biology to extend my metaphor toward you. But I can’t think of one. We did worms, frogs and fetal pigs.

    I hated to go down that path. I’ll endeavor to avoid future metaphor creation when I’m both hungry and without ready food. ;-)

  10. Sheep are kosher. So I don’t know why their eyeballs shouldn’t be. Unless they’re scarred or infested by insects, of course.

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