I met a woman once at a writers' conference, well, I sort of met her. She was a member of another writers' group and while both of our groups huddled near the back of the conference room waiting for Mako Yoshikawa (the hair!) to begin her workshop, we got to talking. The members of this woman's writing group were effusive and warm, funny; the kind of people who establish an immediate comraderie. The woman, however, was quiet, not reserved so much as withdrawn. She appeared to be observing our exchange as if she were not a partipant at all.
As the conversation progressed, each of us took turns explaining our WIP. When it was the woman's turn, she said a few words, we had to strain to hear her in that room humming with anticipation of Mako's arrival, and then her group spoke for her, something I've never forgotten. They said she had two completed manuscripts -- beautiful stories, gorgeous writing, compelling reads both -- that she declined to submit. Meaning, she wasn't seeking an agent, she didn't excerpt them for publication as short stories, she didn't intend to have them published at all. She didn't give a reason even when we asked.
I've often wondered about that woman. She spent several years on each book, expected to write another, she attended conferences, joined an active writers' group, revised, and revised again. To what end? I suspect it was less about the fear of rejection and more that this woman treasured the worlds she created and didn't want the fotoprints of the masses upon them.
Lately, I've been thinking about other people reading my manuscript and it doesn't feel as though I expected. As much as I want the opportunity to introduce my characters to vast audiences, once it's out there, even in a form I've created, it will be changed. If it is published (these caveats are important, aren't they?), others' opinions, insults, interpretations will mold it. Reality is simply a matter of perspective. If it's published, reviewers will call it a mystery or suspense or literary fiction. They will say it's evocative or drivel, inspired or overwrought and it will become what they say it is. I've read a hundred interviews with writers who've said readers find themes and interpret motivations the author never intended. Maybe it's there in the writer's subconscious, maybe the reader's, but it's become a part of the work once it's stated. When a reader takes up a book, it's as if they've staked out territory there, with full squatter's rights to make it their own. I'm afraid that so much of what I intended will be lost in translation.
I think about that woman a lot now. I wonder how often she goes back to those projects, reads them and loses herself in those worlds of hers. Maybe she's right to guard them. Still, I hope someday to be privvy to them, to be a reader and inhabit those characters. I'll try not claim too much if I do.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007