Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Secret Life of the Scribe

"What will people say?" was once a favourite expression used to rein in the exuberant and iconoclastic young.
It was more, however, than a simple devotion to social conformity.
The dictum operated both as a reminder that unexpected deviation carried a social cost and as a sub-text instruction to always consider consequences.

Writers, to the world at large, are deviant.

Some writers rejoice in that, in perennial adolescent rebellion, and produce turgid literary expositions of angst. Well, yawn.

But the situation has ramifications for the less self-obsessed, and can be a real problem for some writers to the point they must use a safe pseudonym.

Mark Pettus (see sidebar) sketches some of his family's reactions to his novel and throws open the question of how we let the inevitable familial consequences affect our writing/ our topics/our language/even our choice of genres. He asks if we let our families read our WIP.

Families are funny.

Sometimes a writer's work can be so realistically viseral that people can't help but wonder if you've drawn from real life.
The view of writing as diary/journal mind-set.
But the writer can give himself kudos if he elicits that reaction.

Sometimes, people are so egotistical they automatically assume they are featured in a family member's work.
Umbrage, mega umbrage.
Wills get rewritten. Contact is severed.
The fertilizer really hits the fan at the family gathering, though, if you tell them they aren't nearly interesting enough.
Wills get re-written. For sure.

Sometimes, people have such a poor understanding of the imagination they conclude writing must be based on real incidents from personal life, not media account life or whatever other source. Suppressed desires sort, at minimum. Axe murderers or sexual activities at large and unrequited at max.
They hide their children.
You raise garter snakes in your hat.
No, really. They do not understand either extrapolation or empathy.

And, of course, these days, everyone is an amateur psychologist - of the "I never realized you despised your Aunt Emma so much, Dear!" variety.
It's luciously illuminating when said speaker smiles beautifically when she says it.

I got the "Mummie, you offed Daddy!" reaction once."
That was a joke.
I think.

My WsIP - in places - do make my immediate family a little uncomfortable, but they persevere.
Matriarchy hath its privileges - no matter how rank.
Gawdknows what they say among themselves. Perhaps they view it as a safe hobby, keeping Mater's mind active or something.
I'm just old enough not to give a sweetdamninhell.


Sandra Ruttan said...

When there's a lot of swearing in stuff, my husband always pulls out the "my mother will read this."

Then we had a discussion about a sex scene, and it was, "My MOTHER will read that."

"And she'll wonder if we have sex?"

Families are funny. And maybe prone to over-reading into things. I don't go straight at the family in my writing (yet anyway) but Cornelia Read did so brilliantly in fiction with her debut book coming out in May.

She's a far more courageous woman than I.

Lady M said...

Hey Chickweed.

Good "article".

Mark's pretty cool about all of it. Cause it has to be weird knowing that your kid will be coming to read your blog.


Personally - I don't mind what my family thinks. They have to deal with the reality of me - so I think it prepares them for the insanity I write. LOL!

Smiles for the day.

Lady M

Lady M said...

ROFLMAO! Sandra - I... Wow - that's funny!

Carla said...

The only one of my immediate family and friends who knows I write is my partner, who is mad/kind/sweet enough to encourage me.

Jeff said...

Not long ago my stepmother said to me, "There must be something wrong with the people who write some of the sick stuff I've seen written." I directed her toward a couple of my more "descriptive" short stories and she said, "I worry about you!"
I tried to explain creative imagination to her, but I don't think she understood. lol

btw- I stopped in by way of Jason and Lady M's blogs. I like your site, Bernita. :)

Tsavo Leone said...

Up until about a month ago my folks had never read a word I'd written - and then I let them in on the blog, in it all it's glory! And my Mum, well, she knows all about my main WiP, as we spent a good few hours talking about it when last I was home.

Since we're all still speaking, I guess it ain't all that bad in their opinion (and my lil' sis' is still telling everyone how good she thinks my writing is).

As for Sandra's husband and his "My Mother will read that," well, that's another reader, isn't it? : )

Heck, we are all adults, after all...

Bernita said...

Oh, Sandra!

Mother never heard bad, bad words or had sex?
Men are naive.

Sometimes family reactions have to do with a collective sense of privacy and anonynimity - the comfortable case broken open.

Lady M, I cannot for the life of me see why it would be weird for a kid to read one's blog - it's there for the whole world to see.
Mine are rather proud - but then they know what a leap it is for me.

Carla, you write so extraordinarily well - sweet/kind/mad has nothing to do with it!

Bernita said...

Nice to see you, Jeff! Thank you very much.
That must have been frustrating.

Wonderful that you can use her as a backboard, Tsavo. Helps sometimes to bounce ideas/concepts off people who don't get tied up in whether you've changed POVs and other technical aspects.Sometimes family can produce some remarkable insights.

Savannah Jordan said...

GMTA Bernita. I fight this fight every day. That's one of the reasons for Savannah. And yet, "people have such a poor understanding of the imagination they conclude writing must be based on real incidents from personal life."

Gets damn frustrating. Why can't others accept fiction for what it is, instead of dissecting it, dilutinng it, distorting it to find what it is not??

Savannah Jordan said...

**pardon the typos, it's early and I'm irritated...**

Lady M said...

It's the blad thing. LMAO - Huggles Savannah!

Savannah Jordan said...

Yes, yes it has much to do with the blad headed men...

Bernita said...

As if none of us ever made typos, Savannah? No problem and no apologies necessary.
Wonder if there's a correlation between the narrowness of some relatives' vision and the amount they read.

Candice Gilmer said...

I bet there probably is, Bernita...

Bernita said...

Hmmm, which may suggest that the writer - who is likely a reader - is doubly suspect in the matrix of family dynamics.

James Goodman said...

I don't think my family has a problem with my writing. Even my grandmother has read my work and had encouraging things to say. Having said that, i cringed when she asked if she could read a copy. I kept thinking about my use of the "F"-bomb and wondered if I was going to offend her. I use it sparely and usually only achieve an effect but still...that is a word she has never allowed spoken in her house. I guess she doesn't mind seeing it in print though. *wink*

Bernita said...

Wink back, James.
I don't allow that Word in my household either, but yanno, when it comes to writing, I broke the barrier.
Your delightful grandmother probably recognizes the difference between personal space comfort and the world out there - especially when it's a fictional one.

Erik Ivan James said...

Call me coward, but I've not shared any of my writing with family. I discuss it with them, but don't offer to let them read.

My primary reason, I think, is because I haven't completed anything yet.

Janna of Canada said...

Hello again; I enjoyed my visit so much the other day, I decided to come back for some more, and it looks like another interesting discussion has already begun.

Though I've yet to let my family read anything of mine (and have no intention of ever picking any of their narrow minds for beta insight), should my WIP ever achieve publication, I can just hear the comments now: "You never experience that!" "No one in your family ever treated you that way!" "Those aren't our religious beliefs!", at which point I'll have to politely remind the familia that I am not my protagonist, and that imagination and real life aren't the same at all, for if they were, people wouldn't bother trying to create objects of art, they would just live.

Bernita said...

Don't think it's a question of cowardice, Erik, but of practicality or tactics.
Wellington said something to the effect that one should get over heavy ground as light as one can.
I never show anything until it's past third draft, and then because (a) they beg, and (b) because their particular interests make them good critics - of substance, not style. Have an SCA son-in-law that I run fight scenes/weapons by, for example.

Very glad to have you, Janna.Best to be prepared for the inevitable deluge of hand-wringing and shock.

I think Sandra should suggest to husband that perhaps his mother might like to write a few short stories. Mother might surprise him.

Ric said...

Morning all,
Yes, I'm still around, Bernita, been a long week...

My wife hasn't read my latest, but two of my kids have and most of my friends.

Did have an earlier work read by a roommate who locked me out of the house and was genuinely fearful for a couple weeks until I convinced her it was FICTION.

Shesawriter said...

I'm going through this now, wrestling with the possibility of writing something I can never show my mother in law.

Bernita said...

You know I check your blog every day, Ric, you sounded very, very busy.
And your wife gives you solutions to plot bunnies.

But please, we would love to see what engendered that reaction!
On the other hand, must have been really good in the realism department!

Once had a bed-sitter in an old house with an insistent neighbour. My husband later wrote a short story about him breaking through the adjoining closets. Still gives me the creeps to remember it.

Bernita said...

It's difficult, Tanya, and it's easy to say published and bedamned, when you fear you might just be.

Ric said...

A very dark sado-masochistic drug fueled spy thriller.

Probably wouldn't cause a blip today, but in 1977, was so cutting edge, I got a four page single spaced response from an agency that said I was trying to sneak hard core porn into a spy novel.

My roommate said she was uncomfortable being in the same house as someone who could ever dream up that scenario.

And, no, it will likely stay under the bed.

Bernita said...

Under the bed?
Sounds ideal for an e-publisher, Ric. Worth trying out that avenue.

Sela Carsen said...

Dh will read mine once it gets into print. My mother started reading more romance when I finally convinced her that I'd rather write romance than children's books.

Bernita said...

Mine too, Sela.
Your mother might turn out to be an interesting resource, what she likes, what she'd like to see more of, etc.

Ric said...

Oddly enough, My Mother doesn't read books. Never has. She doesn't watch much tv or videos, and she does read the newspaper, and short bits from books (if they are set up in that way - like a daily reader) But never a whole book.

Never understood that and she claims she's too old to change now. Maybe has something to do with growing up in the Depression and having siblings go to college.
Not sure I could even get to read one of my books.

kmfrontain said...

LOL. Families are funny. My immediate family, as in kids and husband, are fine with my writing. And it's my eldest son of nineteen who actually helps with any horrifically huge plot bunnies that come hopping along to tromp on my head. But my mom is odder. At first glance supportive, then asking "why do you write that stuff?" Her one decent advice to me was "write what you know", but I write homoerotica/fantasy. How can I possibly know it? There's where empathy for subject matter comes in, because mine has nothing to do with real life. This was a very good topic, Bernita.

Bernita said...

I think also, Ric, it might have something to do with a concept from that generation that reading for pleasure was a waste of productive time.
Such a pity.

From what I've seen, KM you do it very well, even if I have to use empathy to understand it.You certainly write exceedingly well.That was a trememdous beginning I read yesterday.
Very nice when like Ric, you have a sounding board.Invaluable.
Give credit for the topic to Mark, though.

kmfrontain said...

Ok. Mark has the credit. :-)

Yes, my son is invaluable. I gave him a dedication to his ears in more than one book.

Gabriele C. said...

My father has read some of my short stories but his English isn't good enough to cope with a novel. My brother is no reader and my sis in law has no English. So does one of the aunts and her hubby, and their sons aren't interested in my sort of books as far as I can tell. The other aunt/uncle and family are readers and have excellent English since they lived in the US for years (one cousin still is there) - so maybe they'd read the stuff.

I suppose the rape scene and the kinky gay sex will shock them. But I have shocked them before. :)

Bernita said...

It's the personal connection I suppose, Gabriele, not necessarily the scenes themselves, that bother some relatives.
Even harder for family to separate the writer from the text.

Gabriele C. said...

Hehe, none of my family made it into my books even in disguise - they're too boring. ;)

Bernita said...

I wouldn't dare put some of mine in - because they're not.

Lady M said...

Right on B - that's exactly how I feel.

Would never write them in - because they would be recognizable in the most outlandish stuff.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

More of my blogging friends have read my work than relatives, but since I write Christian fiction, even your kids could read mine without shock!

Tsavo Leone said...

Bonnie: you might be surprised at what would shock some readers... : )

Bernita said...

A pain, isn't it, Lady M? All that good material wasted...

Bonnie, I'm afraid my kids like to be shocked.
I can still hear the scandalized "Mother!"

How true, Tsavo! Leaves one scratching one's head at times.

archer said...

Jane Austen had it right: Whenever anyone came into the room, she'd pretend to be knitting.

Bernita said...

I claim "research", Archer, 'cause I want no one to read it until after revision.

Mark Pettus said...

Bernita, Thanks for the mention. Sandra's comment is an interesting one, and your response is brilliant.

We have to keep in mind that our readers are familiar with the things that are happening - even our children and parents are human beings, with heartaches and hormones.

I think it is a common illusion that children don't know anything, and old people have forgotten everything. How can a 90 year old who lived through WW II be naieve? I think I'm drifting off topic...

Bernita said...

Mark, you're very welcome, and thank you for introducing such an interesting topic.