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Author Comment
Registered User
(8/12/03 11:51 am)
Are you afraid?
In reading the posts regarding "H. Potter", S. King, "His Dark..." and such, I'm lead to this thought:

Does it bother you that someday, "they" will take your work, which you wrote for nothing more than entertainment, and without the intention of teaching a moral, preaching a sermon or other didactics, and begin to say, "this is what he/she really meant!"?

Is it fair to say that a certain poem is filled with Homosexual Tendencies when we don't truly know that the author was... or to say that L. C. was a pedophile... or that _____ had a hidden agenda?

And does it really lessen the beauty of the story, to learn later that the dragon was the devil or the author, a secret member of the Esoteric Society of Cryptic Enigmas and Universal Conundrums?

I'm curious about this also:

Do you write with conscious intent of inter-lacing a strand of your morals into the fabric of your story, or do you write just to entertain?

Rym Rytr 1

chirons daughter
Registered User
(8/12/03 3:37 pm)
fear of being misinterpreted
I think that's a good question. When I write, it isn't fiction or poetry (at least not much, and never for a readership), but essays to analyse or critique something -- so I can't speak for people who create more richly from the imagination. But even in that "dry" land where essays grow, some of what comes out of a writer is not under his or her conscious surveillance at all times. If it were so, it would be pretty stiff and thin of content, I think. The point is that things we believe implicitly, which are close to our identity or sense of self, enter the writing and should be clear for the reader to see, even if we don't constantly and consciously ride herd on them as elements of the product. (Of course you self-edit, but that's not the same as self-censoring.)

And if it is there on the page, and your self shows, readers can infer lots of things, probably correctly.

Unregistered User
(8/12/03 3:56 pm)
This is really a two part question--the first is easy for me to answer: am I conscious of my moral or perhaps political stance in my writing--the answer is yes. Those ideologies and theologies inform me at a very basic intellectual and emotional level. We always hope to entertain--but that doesn't mean a piece has no deeper subtext (at least for the writer anyway). Its just that fiction is a peculiar way of expressing such feelings. The wonderful and very Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor once remarked that while it was possible to read her stories without a Christian context, it would have impossible for her to write them without it.

The second question is of course much harder and the literary theories about the relationship between the text and the author, the text and the reader, the author and the reader are fascinating to me. Roland Barthes statements about the "death of the author" because the text as it is being read (and absorbed) by the reader is really being re-constructed and reinterpreted based on the uniqueness of the reader's life and experience. The reader then becomes co-author--claiming or maybe even colonizing the text for him/herself. Some theories are focused on author intentionality--which is sort of difficult because not all authors like to stand out and say "this and only this" is what is meant--because even if he does, with a different historical perspective later readers may see into the limitations of the author's consciousness--Did Bronte "mean" to create a kind of post colonial view of madness and inappropriateness by having the hidden crazy wife in "Jane Eyre" be a Mulatto woman from the colonies? Or did it just seem like the right image from her historical time that she accepted as being a good image to express Rochester's wildness and a wife that would be in the end, dispensible, because afterall she wasn't British (no hard feelings on Bronte's part I'm sure).

Unregistered User
(8/12/03 7:07 pm)
Writing for self?
When I write, I write for myself as well as to entertain others. I am well aware of my own political and ideological stances - for that, I am happy to say that I am firm about it. So, when I write, I tend to weave in what I feel about current issues, ie. feminism and identity.

I think, as a storyteller, I not only teach (and learn at the same time) but I am also passing to my listeners and readers powerful values and motifs. I write about identity. I write about the finding of self.

No doubt, there will be readers who will look at my writing (which - to me - might be a piece of literary entertainment) and see other facets, other meanings. But that's what writing is about, isn't it? A tapestry of motifs, archetypes, sub-texts and sub-plots.


Registered User
(8/13/03 3:59 am)
My take
I believe it's impossible to write outside of yourself, even though your characters may be miles and ages away from where you actually live. All authors are mired in their society.

But the characters are not simple mouthpieces--at least not in good fiction. They have their own lives.

Sometimes, without meaning to, an author may be didactic. (Sometimes when meaning to, as in BLACK BEAUTY which was really a tract given a storyline by a woman who campaigned to save cartand carriage horses from wicked masters.) Even a good author--a Pullman or a Lewis--can fall prey to it.


Registered User
(8/13/03 12:42 pm)
Re: My take
As a writer, I think it is impossible to ignore the possibility that readers will "misinterpret" your stories. I tend to think that all interpretations are valid even if they hadn't occured to the author at the time. I mean, isn't that what makes the great stories so great--that each of us finds what we need within them? That and the fact that you can find something more or different in those stories upon rereading them as you age.


Unregistered User
(8/13/03 1:18 pm)
Interesting question
At this time, I write mostly for myself. In other words, I have yet to TRY to be published. Thus, when I write I often explore an alter ego of myself, the "what if" person. What is interesting is that these characters often become entities unto themselves. If one were to interpret my characters, they could easily misinterpret me if they knew nothing else about me. Am I afraid of that? No. If I were to write something that someone is THAT interested in, I guess I would be flattered, and probably amused so long as I or my family didn't get threatened, but also quite possibly frustrated or angry depending upon the interpretation. Not afraid though.

Most assuredly, my characters are a reflection of the culture I live in, either in rejecting that culture or in exploring it. But as I said in an earlier thread, our culture is sometimes only one person or one family deep. Boy, does this make any sense?


chirons daughter
Registered User
(8/13/03 4:36 pm)
Black Beauty
So odd that you should mention Black Beauty, Jane -- I just re-read it a few weeks ago after perhaps 40 years. I loved the book as a child and read it many times, so many in fact that the re-read I just did was like a walk down a country road where I recognized every tree and stone.

Of course I see (now) what you mean about its being an animal rights tract, didactic and rather heavy-handed; and in its time, when everybody around had horses in their everyday life, I don't doubt it was received as such. I grew up in suburban Rhode Island in the '50s, however, and we didn't have horses in our lives, much as I yearned for one. So for me it was a story with a lot of trials and sadness, sandwiched between a pretty beginning and a happy ending, many beautiful (and sometimes terrible) mental pictures, and a tremendous amount of factual detail that I took in quite uncritically, including how to treat (and mistreat) a horse.

What am I getting at here. . . if Anna Sewell was intending an animal rights tract, she got her point over, even to a child in another time and world, and good for her; but the moving story and the vivid images that were no more than the vehicle for the main point are what keep the work alive now (and kids do keep reading it), though imagery and the storytelling that appeal to kids today may have been quite secondary and not consciously emphasized by Sewell at all.

It's impossible to predict what one's writing, either as didactic intention or as a frank projection of one's self, will connect with once it's been put in front of readers. There's no help for it. And maybe that is a little scary.

Registered User
(8/13/03 4:54 pm)
Re: Thankyou
When I took Literary Criticism in college, our text used the same story- The Great Gatsby- as an example throughout. Gatsby deconstructed, Gatsby gay, Gatsby in a cultural context...and our assignment week by week was to do the same to a four line poem by Margaret Atwood. In the poetry and fiction courses, where sharing your own work was required, I came into direct contact with the strange twistings and newborn meanings that sprout up when words leave one mind and are taken up by another.
I am thankfull and mindfull of the bravery, as well as creativity, of writers who give their work to the world. Intention may almost cease to matter- but don't the levels of enjoyment increase? Literature has been my study, job and entertainment- fear of interpretation or garble-ization will never, i hope, deter a teller from telling.

Registered User
(8/14/03 8:43 am)
Re: Thankyou
I'm grateful for all the opinions and the encouragements posted!

It appears that there are few if any, stories that do not reveal the writers Id and Ego. I take uplifting from G's post, the one just above this, and (perhaps) I will continue with my novel, short stories and such. Maybe they will never be seen by others while I'm alive, (hiding behind the "unawareness" of death???), but someone might find them and gain some small monetary compensation with "Stories found after Old Man dies" publications

Unregistered User
(8/15/03 7:16 am)
What bothers me is not that someone may find a new meaning in my story (although I'd just as soon they not claim that I put it there) but that someone may make something up that I would disagree with and claim I said it. I see this more as a problem in nonfiction. I think we may be safer in fiction. If a reader hears that the Lord of the Rings was really about World War II, he's apt to say, oh look, another strained attempt to get a paper for English class.

Registered User
(8/16/03 1:34 pm)
Re: Mis-interpretation
Fascinating thread. Thanks, RymRyter1 (sp?) for beginning it. I dunno about the assumption that we write for "nothing more than entertainment." Some writers will say that, some won't. And even so, I think you'd first have to ascertain what each writer means by "entertainment." I love fiction and non-fiction to entertain me. For me, "entertainment" means that I like it to be engaging and compelling in terms of style, content and plot, I like to be helped to care about the issues and/or characters, and I like to have my views on the world challenged. I try to do the same when I write. I think of writing as a kind of dialogue between writer and reader (though I do also like the notion of it being a kind of co-creation). What I make changes once it gets out into the world and other people respond to it. The meaning I meant to make is relevant, but so are the interpretations of the people who read what I made. Sometimes I learn from those interpretations, sometimes I disagree vehemently, and sometimes I'm just bemused, but for me, part of the act of writing *is* people's interpretation of what I've written. The piece isn't finished when I write the last word. It's finished when no one is reading it or talking about it.

Registered User
(8/23/03 1:43 am)
All Art is a Dialogue
I am as guilty of critical paranoia as the next author, artist, or poet, but what has made me less critical of my work in the eyes of others is a thougth from "The Wood Wife" by Terri Windling. (as an aside this is one of my favorite books because it makes me miss the Catalinas and my time on Mt. Lemmon)
All poetry (art) is a dialogue. If someone reads a story or sees a painting and that work conveys to them something that the author never intended, well it isn't any less relevent than what the author intended. People have very personal relationships with art, and glean from it what they need or want. What you personally feel about a piece is no more or less true for you if the author didn't intend that message.
That ephemmeral spark that causes you to react to a work is yours, no one else's. And if a person is in a position to analyse and make public their part of that poetic dialog, well, it's just their opinion. They can back it up with any ammount of literary and historical "fact", but we weren't there creating that side of the conversation, we can't know what was intended, only what was conveyed to us.

As far as whether knowing what was intended lessens the experience of a work. For me, no. If I look at "Jaberwocky" as a christian poem because L.C. intended it that way, I am not adding anything to that poetic dialog. I am merely listening and accepting without investing myself in the work in any way. If you do not include yourself in a work, I don't think you can truly love or hate it. You can only read it.

but that's just my 2 cents... and that won't even get you coffee nowadays.

Registered User
(8/23/03 2:54 am)
Re: All Art is a Dialogue
There's another aspect to the dialogue between writer and reader: the set of expectations a reader brings to the book -- which is something that can be influenced by a third party: teachers, critics, marketers, the label on the book's spine. This is something we've been discussing over in the Interstitial Arts group, where our goal is to champion work that falls into the interstices between catagories and genres, and/or crosses over borders between genres. For example, Alice Hoffman's new novel, The Probable Future, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman's novel A Fistful of Sky deal with very similar themes -- both use magic, and the story of a family of witches in modern America, to explore family dynamics and the coming of age of a young girl. Both are fine literary novels. Alice Hoffman's book was published in mainstream and Nina Hoffman's book was published in the fantasy genre, though it could have easily been the other way around based soley on the text (both are beautifully written) and not on the publishing histories of the authors. Both are border-crossing works that use the conventions of fantasy literature *and* the conventions of domestic realist literature. Yet many readers (and critics) will read and approve of only one or the other because they will *only* read fantasy, or *only* read mainstream works. I'm not trying to raise the whole "genre writers get no respect" issue here, but a different issue about the expectations readers bring to books. A Fistful of Sky is *perceived* as fantasy, by readers and critics, because it is marketed that way, and because the label "fantasy" has a whole set of associations attached to it. The Probable Future is perceived as a literary novel with touches of magical realism because it sits on the bookstore shelves alongside works of realist fiction. There are some mainstream reviewers (not all, of course) who are made uncomfortable by A. Hoffman's books because of the magical elements. There are some fantasy reviewers (not all, of course) who don't like N. Hoffman's books because they don't follow familiar genre formulas -- there's not "enough action". The latter critics have decided what a fantasy genre novel should be, and judge N. Hoffman's books accordingly -- whereas she's just writing novels, not marketing them, and it her publisher who puts that Fantasy label on the book's spine.

So a reader comes to a book and has a dialogue with the author, yes, but often they also bring a certain set of expectations with them. With some books, these expectations can make it difficult for readers to judge the book on its own merits, rather than expectations they have based on how they feel about the label on the spine. (What we're trying to do with the Interstitial Arts Foundation is to develop a new critical vocabulary for reading and understanding interstitial, border-crossing works. But that's not a discussion for this board. There will be an IA discussion board when the new IA web site launches at the end of September.)
With the Wood Wife, there were some reviewers who felt the entire last chapter was unnecessary. The "magical" plot had been wrapped up in the previous chapter, and if you read the novel as a pure genre-fantasy novel, following a magical adventure, then those reviewers are right. But there's another story woven into the book about the protagonist, Maggic Black, having cut herself off from her muse, her vocation (poetry), and the possibility of love. She finds these things again in the desert, and *that* story is resolved in the final chapter. Reviewers who were reading that story, instead of or in addition to the magical adventure, thought it ended appropriately. It was an eye-opening experience for me. Both sets of reviewers were reading the same text -- but they weren't reading the same book. As an author, that's out of your control. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "We do not control the horizontal and vertical." (Which is why it's so darn satisfying when you meet a reader who actually seems to have read the book you thought you were writing....)

Registered User
(8/23/03 8:41 am)
Re: All Art is a Dialogue
Expectations can come into play in other ways also. I'm thinking of the disappointment of some people in Fall of Kings (which I didn't share) perhaps because they were expecting and wanting another Swordspoint (which I also love.)

Also, the proliferation of trilogies and "never-ending" series. Does this affect what doesn't get published in any way? It would seen that it might as the "sure thing" is a safer bet. Is it not also possible that some authors might be tempted to shift bits of the story to make it more sellable to reader expectations?

I'm sorry, I know that this a bit off topic to the original post but it does seem that when a body of work is involved that the dialogue between writer and reader or in TV/movies writer and viewer can impact the story. There's been some discussion that in Buffy this was an issue. It leads me to another off topic thought about the relationship between art for art's sake and our system which for many art forms is based in the market demand or commercialism.

I also wonder if the continuing popularity of fairy tales both in their own right and as source material for artists isn't at heart because they lend themselves to a dialogue. Because they are fantasy they inspire our entry into a liminal space where we can connect with what lies beneath or in the woods, not just the surface level of the story.

As a reader, it is this deeper level that I carry with me when the book is closed. I might have been inspired to read the Wood Wife because I know it falls in a certain genre and that I'm likely to enjoy the plot and the setting etc; but it would be Maggie's finding love and her muse that would impact me on a deeper level and that would have continuing inpact on me and my own dialogue with the world if that makes any sense.

(8/23/03 8:53 am)
Similar situation in gaming...
I was just browsing some sites when I came upon an online RPG guide (pdf format) called Ink and Quill, from Bastion Press:

Chapter 6 is called Manuals, (page 41) and it talks about a player character's ability to understand a manual, using elements such as Language, Authorship, and Cultural Modifiers, leading to either Benefits or Misinterpretation.

Just thought it sounded interesting and possibly (distantly) connected.

Dandelion wishes,


Registered User
(8/23/03 2:22 pm)
Re: Dialog
I agree that the marketing of a work is part of the story created by stories, but it seems like the idle gossip that we hear of people before we meet them.
Terri- I am completely in agreement with the interstitial movement. Publishers labels should be viewed as vague guidelines, not stone carved law.
Admitedly, I am not able to read as much as I would like, but on the occasion that I procure a new volume, I tend to follow the advice of other readers and people whose tastes I know I share. Only in bookstores does the genre segregation become frustrating. I prefer the languid ease of a library and the wealth of opinion offered by those saints of pauper bibliophiles, Librarians.
I guess, for me, it comes down to what I as a reader enjoy. I am just as likely to pick up a novel, as yet unpublished, by a friend of mine, as a well worn copy of "Dreams Underfoot."
Literary critics only have as much power as we give them, sort of like Freddy Kreuger.

Registered User
(8/25/03 10:13 am)
Nope, not afraid.
RymRytr1 wrote, "Does it bother you that someday, "they" will take your work, which you wrote for nothing more than entertainment, and without the intention of teaching a moral, preaching a sermon or other didactics, and begin to say, "this is what he/she really meant!"?"

I don't think I do write for "nothing more than entertainment," though my intention is not to teach a moral but to hopefully give people an opportunity to think about something a different way.

I agree with the posters who say that what a reader sees in the text is not wrong, even if it isn't what the author intended. I'd go further and say that it's really cool, for me at least, when people tell me they've seen something different in my writing. There's a moment of surprised discovery when you can look at your own writing through somebody else's eyes, that I like.

Of course, it'd be annoying if people say things about my writing that are just false, like if they try to give me a different religion or political view or sexuality or whatever, but other critics would then come out and denounce them based on what is known about me, which will probably be a lot, since not only do we just record lots about people nowadays anyway, but I personally also publish my diary online... so that's not something that concerns me.

I like AsheLeBeau's comment that all art is dialogue. I've heard this expressed before (a bit differently) about abstract art, around public arguments about a museum paying millions for a piece that's essentially a few stripes on a canvas - I'm thinking of a specific instance that Canadians here will remember, but it could have been any argument about public monies spent on art. A local artist had made the statement that all art is part of a conversation, and some of those conversations are about human nature or good vs evil or the nature of love or whatever, and other conversations were about the nature of art itself, and although those conversations might not be interesting to many members of the public, they were crucial to the development of new art. I really liked that metaphor.

The thing about conversations is, you can't control what other people say. You can only write as clearly as you can and then let your work speak for itself.

Ultimately, though, I'll just be happy that people are still reading my work after I die!

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