To me, the reader’s freedom to react is part of the romance of writing, its mystique and its beauty. I put a part of myself on paper and then I give it away. You can trample on it or you can love it, that’s your choice, but either way I want you to have it.
I recently linked to a post by Cecelia Grant about rock ‘n’ roll and the importance of reader reaction in romance. It indirectly got me thinking about something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while.
I’ve mentioned my favorite band, the Headstones, a couple of times recently because I went to their reunion concert LAST WEEKEND!!!! It was one of the best experiences of my life. I was telling my uncle about how great it was, and he said, “Well I’m glad, you had built it up so much that I was worried it would be a letdown.” That was not actually something I had ever been worried about. I had worried it wasn’t going to actually happen, that it would be canceled at the last minute or the Toronto airport would be closed due to snow or that it was all some kind of horrifying trap to steal Headstones fans’ organs for the black market, but I knew that if it did happen it would be amazing, and it was.
I was right in the front near Trent, the guitar player, and the band was on. Being with so many other fans and hearing those songs live just felt like adding a whole new dimension or sixth sense to how I was experiencing them, like there had been this other layer to the songs all along, made up of how energy was flowing between members of the band and between the band and the listeners, and I could finally see it.
Anyway. The lead singer, Hugh Dillon, is one of my very favorite lyricists in the world, and I love it when he writes about writing. On his most recent album, Works Well with Others , the song “Reel to Reel” has some of the absolutely best stuff in it about the writer/reader (or writer/listener, in this case) relationship I’ve ever heard. One of the verses says:
It’s open for discussion
My heart’s on that machine
You can turn it up or down
Delete or let it bleed
There’s a perennial argument over whether a book is an author’s child or a product created for money. One side of the argument goes, “A book is like an author’s baby, she has poured her heart and soul into it, and therefore it should be treated with respect and spoken about nicely.” The other side goes, “A book is something in author produces for money, and once it is purchased it belongs to the consumer and can be treated however he or she wishes. If an author doesn’t want people to write bad reviews of her work, she should not make it publicly available.” You see the same basic argument showing up in discussions of the ethics of fanfiction as well.
Hugh Dillon says there is no distinction. I’ve written this song with my blood, he says. I did it for you. Do whatever you want with it. (At least, that’s what those lines mean to me. They could mean something totally different to Hugh! But I bet he would support my right to interpret them this way.)
I love that. Does it upset me when I read unfavorable things people have said about my work? Of course. Does that mean no one should write them? No.
Okay, I’m going to maybe get a little melodramatic here, but as Hugh Dillon also once wrote: “Buried in my heart, you know it’s heavy-handed.” It’s hard to sound cool and detached about something that matters so deeply to me.
To me, the reader’s freedom to react is part of the romance of writing, its mystique and its beauty. I put a part of myself on paper and then I give it away. You can trample on it or you can love it, that’s your choice, but either way I want you to have it. And it’s the risk that somebody could choose to trample on it that makes that gift so powerful. It’s like that moment in a romance on the hero or heroine chooses to say “I love you” for the first time, not knowing if the other person will say it back but wanting them to hear it anyway.
I write because there’s something I want to tell people. There something I want to communicate. It’s a weird, one-sided relationship of trust and vulnerability, but it’s worth it to me. Because I know that someone, hopefully a lot of someones, will hear it and it will mean something to them. Even if it’s not what I thought it would mean. A good review is a phenomenal high.
I’ve been an avid reader since I was small. I’ve read a lot of books that I loved, that I connected with on a fundamental level, that I had a relationship with. I’ve also read a lot of books that I hated, that I found boring, laughable, or that made me deeply angry. But I will always be grateful to all of those writers for having the courage to put part of themselves out there for me to react to, to love and admire and argue with and make up alternate endings and trash-talk and laugh at.
I’m giving away a copy of Works Well with Others at my website here, and since I’m in such a Headstones mood after the concert, I’m including a used copy of their fantastic album “Teeth & Tissue.” Go enter! They’re both wonderful albums. You can listen to all the songs on WWwO on Hugh’ s website, including “Reel to Reel”–just click “launch music player.” And the music videos for the singles from T&T are up on YouTube: Hearts, Love & Honour and Unsound (which has one of the greatest basslines ever).