March 21st, 2007


Reading Silk (part three)

And here it is, the first day of Spring, the Vernal Equinox, Ostara. And I greet it with great relief, that another winter has come and gone.

There was very little to yesterday, except the continued reading and correcting and editing and rewriting of Silk. Many commas and hyphens were added, a few compounderations were hewn asunder. Some atrocious phrasing was made less so. In the end, we did three chapters, though I'd hoped to do four, and this morning the Zokutou page thingy looks like this:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
225 / 354

Going over the novel again after all these years, I remain perplexed that so many readers found the characters so loathsome. Sure, Robin and Byron are a bit much, too goth for their own good or anybody elses, but all in all, I still find the people inhabiting Silk as sympathetic as I ever did, and I do not waste my time trying to write characters with whom I cannot sympathize. I would not know how to do that. But I've heard it from so many people. This person, for example, in an "review":

If you are really into super-confusing, creepy books with self-pitying, annoying, wear-it-on-their sleeve outcast characters-- this might be just the tale for you.

Or this "review":

I had a hard time sympathizing with these pathetic, soullessly conformist waifs.

Or this one:

What bothers me is that I find the characters so enormously unappealing. They're all self-absorbed 20somethings proudly and defiantly wrapped up in their own pain and dysfunction. I couldn't find any sympathy in me, much less empathy, for any of them, not even Spyder, who was horribly abused as a child. Every time Daria lost her temper over her junky boyfriend I wanted to slap her. Every time Spyder evaded the questions of those who wanted to love and help her with vague mumblings I wanted to strangle her. These are people who enjoy wallowing in their pain.

Even now, a decade after the book was first published, fourteen years after I started writing it, these reactions simply mystify me. Much of Silk is awfully close to autobiography, and I was writing about a time and places and people I had known and been. And though I am now someone very, very different, I still do not understand these reactions, this hostility. For me, Silk is a novel about people doing the best they can do, given their unfortunate situations and histories. Yes, many of them are broken and insane and self-destructive, and they usually do not behave like or have the priorities of sensible, down-to-earth, workin' class folks or property-flipping yuppies. But, for the most part, they are true. And that is my first and most important job as a writer, to write true people. Maybe what rubbed these people the wrong way was that I didn't turn Silk into some sort of tiresome morality tale or a cautionary screed: Be careful, or you'll end up like these losers. Anyway...

I did find one extremely annoying error in the book yesterday, one that has made it into print three times now. I refer to the black widows Spyder's keeping as "Latrodectus geomstricus," thereby managing to make both a taxonomic and a spelling blunder. There is no such beast as Latrodectus geomstricus. Latrodectus geometricus, on the other hand, is the brown widow. But. The Southern black widow, which would have been the species in Spyder's care, is Latrodectus mactans. I am at a loss to explain how I made this error in the first place, much less how it was carried on through three editions. People pick on my characters when they ought to pick on my taxonomy.

Like I said, not much else to yesterday. I was up until 1:30 a.m. writing Wikipedia articles, one on Judeasaurus and one on the squamate clade Varanoidea, because that's just the sort of self-absorbed, dysfunctional, pathetic dork I am.

Reading Silk (part four)

I forgot to mention that on our walk yesterday we realised that the wild violets (Viola spp.) were blooming, and we also spotted a male Eastern bluebird (Silia sialis) flitting about Freedom Park.

Two more chapters of Silk edited today, chapters Ten and Eleven, which means that the Zokutou thingy looks thusly:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
276 / 354

We'll do the last three chapters and the epilogue tomorrow, and then...a couple of days free of proofreading before I have to get to work on the ms. following from the Forced and New Consolidated marches. I do not know how I thought I'd have time to do 15,000 words on The Dinosaurs of Mars this month. Well, yes I do. This reprinting of Silk hadn't been worked out yet, that's how.

"A Season of Broken Dolls" (Sirenia Digest #15) has been reprinted in the new online version of Subterranean Magazine, and you may read it free. Which, among other things, gives non-subscribers a free opportunity to have a peek at what's going on in the Digest. Do note that the formatting has been altered for subpress. Originally, Schuler's journal entries were written as single paragraphs, but Bill thought that would probably be a bit overwhelming online, and he's probably right. I've tried to place the graph breaks as unobtrusively as possible. Also, the story was not originally subdivided into two sections. Anyway, I'm excited about this online incarnation of the magazine, and my thanks to subpress for the reprint. I'd love to hear some thoughts on the piece from non-subscribers and subscribers alike.

There were some thoughtful comments to this mornings entry, and I figured I post a few of them, as I know some people don't read the comments (though they should):

sovay writes: It is incredibly painful to watch people self-destruct, but I found that to be one of the truest aspects of the book.

And yes, I think that painful sense of helplessness, as felt by Niki and Daria both, and to a lesser degree by Spyder, was something I was trying to capture in the book. Cthulhu knows, I had to watch enough of my friends self-destruct back in the early '90s, and no small number of my friends had to endure my own self-destructive binges (the stuff of bar-room legends and sea chanteys).

docbrite writes:

I mean, when I look at Lost Souls now, even I want to smack Nothing around and tell him to go mow the lawn or something. But that's old-farty 40-year-old me with years of experience and hard work behind me. Nothing was 15 and, it seems to me, a fairly realistic disaffected suburban 15-year-old who knows he isn't where he belongs. It's as if there is no room in some readers' worldview for realistically broken children, for young people who don't fit any mold and feel certain that ONLY THEY have ever felt this way, for characters who simply haven't done their growing up yet. It makes me suspect such readers were the kind of people who have a great time in high school -- "These are the best days of our lives!" -- and are bitter forever after that they're no longer the prom queen or the Chief Beater-Up of Geeks, Faggots, and General Losers.


...I didn't mean readers had to have lived lives identical to Cait's (or my older) characters in order to sympathize with them, but only that an intelligent reader of any fiction must have the compassion and imagination to identify with characters outside his range of experience, characters who might tax his patience in real life (anybody wanna hang out with Madame Bovary? Spend a weekend on the Lido with Gustav Aschenbach, perhaps?), but who nevertheless have a great deal to teach the reader about human experience and emotion. I believe Cait's characters fit this description very well.

There is a certain type of reader, generally with a certain background, who will immediately recognize, identify with, and cherish the characters of a novel like
Silk. However, you needn't be this reader in order to appreciate the novel or learn from the characters, and I maintain that people who dismiss them as "soulless conformists," "whiners," etc. have a deeply limited and — I daresay — prejudiced worldview.

And I do not think I could have said that much better. This afternoon, I was saying pretty much the same thing to Spooky, only I was citing William Kennedy's Ironweed as an example of an outstanding novel with characters that a) exist in a world I've never experienced firsthand, b) endure a good deal of suffering and self-destruction brought on, to greater and lesser degrees, by their own actions, and c) with whom I can nonetheless identify and certainly sympathize. Sure, Francis Phelan is a bum and a drunk and he can be a total asshole and he once murdered a man and he cowardly deserted his family when he accidentally killed his infant son, but, still, he's a better man than most. I think too, too many readers have no interest whatsoever in learning anything at all about "human experience and emotion."

jtglover writes:

With so many people coming to horror or fantasy looking to have Evil and Chaos beaten back, it's no wonder some of them dislike Silk, or Naked Lunch, or Wraeththu, or Fight Club, or whatever. Not that I think of Silk as an explicitly "transgressive" novel, but I think it meets that same kind of incomprehension among readers who get something completely different from it than what they're used to getting.

And embereye writes:

I don't agree that you necessarily have to have lived that particular lifestyle (goth, depressed, addicted or any others) to understand and empathize. I certainly did not (although I loved some of the influences and music and some of what's come out of it and oddly many of my friends are former/current goths these days). I think the main point is that your characters are human with all of humanities foibles and weaknesses and strengths, and those who are saying that they had no empathy for them perhaps came into the story expecting characters that at the end of the long drive of pain and anxiety and fear just stood up, brushed the dust off their shoulders, said "well, that's all right then" and strode off into the sunset with their trusty steed at their side. I don't know, but maybe it's just that they came to the story with expectations of how the characters should act based on how they themselves would act. I guess that's just a very limited way of reading a story, isn't it?

Yes, indeed. Those sorts of expectations, I would say, entirely defeat the purpose of reading fiction. And I wish this entry were not getting so long, as there are other comments I would like to quote. Anyway, they're there if you want to see them.