Wednesday, February 27

They come at him one at a time, each warrior in turn charging toward honorable single combat.
Then--
They come two at a time.
By the time they begin to come in groups, they have to scramble over the bodies of their dead comrades to reach him. A pile of bodies.
A pile that becomes a wall, a rampart.
Ganner Rhysode builds a fortress of the dead.


That makes me feel inferior.

Doesn't look like much, here . . . but in context, the emotion that very, very simple, straightforward prose evokes make me wonder if I was using the same brain then that I am now.

Here's the thing:

I am very happy, and deeply honored, that my fiction has been important to several folks 'round these parts, and elsewhere. But you all should understand: it's not because I'm anything special, or because my stories have some particular depth or significance. What is special is the intersection of my words with your imaginations.

You've probably heard it said that "What you get out of it depends on what you put into it." What you may not have realized is how literally true that platitude becomes when you apply it to the act of reading fiction.

I've tried other formulations of the same sentiment, especially in Blade of Tyshalle: "What any work of art means depends on who you are when you look at it." And, once or twice, in reference to uncomplimentary reviews: "When you judge a book, the book also judges you."

These are all ways of saying the same thing. Look: a work of fiction is not words on a page, or on a screen. That's part of it, and it's not the most important part. The actual story--the Real Novel--is what unfolds in your head as you read those words.

You get it?

This is why I can find myself feeling inferior to authors some readers might not consider my equals--because their books inspire in me feelings and images and all manner of experience that I can never get from my own books.

Except sometimes, a few years down the road, when I have enough distance from a story I've penned to approach it as a reader, rather than as its author. Then I do occasionally feel inferior to my (younger) self.

So this is the thing I really want to drive home for any and all people who find something special in my books (or, for that matter, in anyone else's).

It's not the book. It's you. It's your mind doing all the work. Your commitment, your willingness to be touched, your suspension of disbelief and the power of your imagination. That's why there are many, many people who will never be moved by some story you love -- or, for some impoverished souls, by any story at all.

If you find something extraordinary in one of my books, it's because it was already inside you, and the words just helped you locate it, that's all.

And for those who don't find anything extraordinary in any of my books, fuck you anyway. Read something else, punk ass.

18 comments:

Alex said...

I can't think of anything more to say other than "well put, sir."

Mike said...

Interesting post, Matt.

I think you might be a little hard on yourself with the inferiority thing. I wonder if you need to get out of the editor's mindset, "I can make this better, there's gotta be a way to make this better - eh, I'm so sick of this, I'm not going bother with it anymore."

James said...

I totally agree with that message. Now I just wish some English teachers could learn it so I would stop having to guess what the author is thinking, we didn't read the same god dang story, maybe what I thought he/she was thinking was completely different from the textbook version.
And, btw, that quote you opened with is one of my all time favorites, along with some of the preceding description. Every time I read it I can feel Nom Anor's superstitious chill, which, I believe, just goes to prove your point even more.

Joe said...

"Is it what the student learns, what the teacher teaches?"

(or maybe it was the other way around)

MWS said...

Mike --

It's not an inferiority thing, really -- that's just an expression for the simple fact that my own words can never trigger my own imagination the same way someone else's can. I KNOW what I was seeing in my head as I wrote . . .

You'll just have to trust me on this.

And James --

English teachers do some very useful things. But they way most of them teach literature ain't one of them.

The proper way to teach literature is to simply make the student read the works in question, then make him talk about what he thinks of it and why. Period.

There used to be an elementary school intro-to-Lit that I always thought was the only good way to teach this stuff; it used to be called the Great Books program. We'd read (usually excerpts, or short) classics, then the kids would sit in a circle and talk about it. Just talk. No grades, no tests, no nothing. A teach would lead the discussion, but it was always emphasized that there was no such thing as a right or wrong answer . . . because what we were talking about what was WE got out of the story.

Which is really the only thing that matters, isn't it?

MWS said...

And Joe --?

The actual quote goes, roughly:

"Is it [the true lesson] what the teacher teaches, or what the student learns?"

James said...

I heartily agree, the most important thing about a book is what you got out of it, how it made you into a different person or how it defined life more clearly. Almost something along the lines of what Hanto (probably didn't spell that right) the Scythe thinks about art.

Angela said...

Heck yea!

And for the record, reading Heroes Die and Blade of Tyshalle changed my life, and perspective, also.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

You are absolutely right. Your words, phrased the way you place them, your thoughts, the way you choose to elucidate them, and your novels - the ones you choose to write, however, are your choices.

Good to see you can take some ownership of the changes you've helped bring about by being that man . Even if you never asked to be. Because asking would have made you someone different.

Aaron said...

Matt,

Your stances are like meat-wrapped-candy to me. If I promise to buy your next book in hardback can I schedule regular time to assail you with dialog, questions, comments and rude jokes?

:P

GameCreator said...

The garden versus the gardener? Both the reader and author are both.

timuruski said...

Funny you should post that. That bit right there was basically what made me seek out the rest of your work. When Ganner is thinking to himself about how he was a crappy Jedi, I was floored by the realness of the speech. That's the way people think.

It wasn't long before I picked up a copy of Heroes Die from the local book store. :)

Sepp said...

"[…] who reads
Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
A spirit and judgement equal or superior,
(And what he brings, what needs he elsewhere seek)
Uncertain and unsettl'd still remains,
Deep verst in books and shallow in himself,
Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys
And trifles for choice matters, worth a sponge;
As Children gathering pebbles on the shore."

Paradise Regained. Okay so maybe here Our Savior talks more about wisdom than imagination, but I'm still reminded of it by the post. Either way, sometimes it needs something external to bring out the imagination/wisdom in you.

Re-reading is an interesting topic. I often read compulsively for plot the first time, skipping seemingly boring passages in a work and finding it worse than it turns out to be on a second read. An especially impressive example is The Book of the New Sun which I'm currently reading for the second time; I'm almost through The Claw of the Conciliator and though I liked it well enough the first time it's much better now.

Same with Lord of Light--although that's a short one. And probably a lot of other stories that I haven't even attempted re-reading yet and of which I think badly perhaps only for that reason... does anybody else observe that?

And I find that even if re-reading raises my regard for a novel, if it hasn't already resonated strongly enough with me on the first read, it won't get a place among my very favorites. Even if it has fantastic, inspirational, quotable scenes. So far, the stories I really like most--the kind you'd take with you on a lone island--are always those few in which I don't feel the need to skip ahead in the first place--because there is no need to, every word seems right, interessting, necessary or to my taste, makes me go "YES!" or a combination of those.

Ahm, this is long--final question: what does the increased display of appreciation (right?!) for your works, Matt (the recent polls at theforce.net for example), do to the tyranny of praise? And why the hell are you not gonna make Caine Black Knife another Blade of Tyshalle? Oh you mean if some people want more Blade they should just re-read the damn book? Erm. Fair enough, I guess.

MWS said...

Ahh, the Tyranny of Praise . . .

One of my favorite coinages. I'll bring that up around here, as well.

Ranasp said...

Hmm, on the one hand, I agree, especially as an artist. What you are flavors all that you interact with, changes how you see things.
On the other hand, if it's a piece of shit writing job then no matter how high on uppers I am I'm still going to think it's a piece of shit.

Chris said...

I thought you'd gone soft, Matt, until that last paragraph redeemed it!

Phil Cline said...

I'd just like to add a "right on" to this blog. I've read the SW movie novelizations out of a sense of obligation, feeling it was something a Star Wars fan just 'had' to do. And it's been my opinion that none of them offer more than a small glimpse beyond what the film is already showing us. So after what I felt were pretty blah novelizations of TPM and AOTC, I picked up ROTS. I actually really liked the film ROTS and assumed the novel would be at least a little insightful.

But wow, it just blew me away. I'm still trying to figure out how to put it in words, but it was a novel that really spoke to me.

Like you're saying, the impact was so tremendous because it touched on all of the conflicts and issues in the relationships between Anakin, Obi-Wan, Palpatine, and Padme that I've always found to be the most emotional or sensitive.

I won't try to explain the impact because putting it in words would someone diminish it, so I'll just say "right on". It was the Star Wars novel I've been waiting to read for a long time.