i read an incredibly entertaining, sharp (as usual) post by roxane gay on the movie “rise of planet of the apes“, which i saw a few days ago. here is what i thought after i read her review (which contains serious spoilers):
“loved your review but why am i reading this now before losing an evening in the cinema and sacrificing it to james franco’s ‘delicate features’? the guy really does suck. he’s a cross between a hipster and a scientist, some new form of monstrosity. i hear he writes. is that what he wrote, palo alto? perhaps his writing is better than his acting? he already nearly destroyed spider man for me. but this is the effect of your writing that it brings out the anger that i didnt even know i had. this is at least therapeutic and at best cathartic – thank you.”
i’m probably an unlikely reader for roxane gay’s non-fiction even though i like her style, her words, her thinking. i consider myself unlikely because i don’t share much of the cultural background that leaks out of her (non-fiction) writing & most of the comments that she receives from others don’t speak to me (i might like or dislike them but i don’t know what to say to them). her writing on the other hand always solicits a response from me—a response that enriches me in return: best of all worlds for a reader-writer, innit?
so, where does my recent interest in an “ideal reader” come from? here’s the story:
— amanda deo of thunderclap press wrote a very honest, direct post in which she asked if i (everyone really, she didn’t ask just me, it was a question for the entire internet) would still write if nobody ever read me. fascinating question (and great comments by others). i replied—at length:
“i’m not going to publicly talk about my orgasms…& i think ryan’s comparison is spot on, including the extension, implied or not, that sex is, well, more than masturbation. also more complicated, more involved, more complex in every way. which doesn’t stop anyone from having it. in fact, who doesn’t like a challenge—
…but to come back to writing: i used to publish under a pseudonym because i felt very insecure about the quality of my work. i came out because of the moderate success in the form of feedback from readers (other than my loved ones & friends). if i hadn’t received this feedback or if it had been overwhelmingly cool/negative, i would probably have stopped. it follows that i’m a terrible sucker for success & (positive) feedback: as in the rest of my life. “how you do anything is how you do everything,” says cheri huber…
…so i totally write for readers, not just for myself. otherwise i’d do what i’ve done for decades: write in my head (which is excellent practice btw). having said that, i write for myself in the first place, try to please myself first of all. which is a permanent challenge since my wife’s both an editor and my first reader & she’s quite (suitably) critical.
but then who is the ideal reader? — i’ve got a feeling i should know more about my “target group” to use a marketing term. this makes me think of stephen king, who addresses his reader as “dear constant reader”; he got a meta dialog going while his “constant readers” wait for the next book to come out…perhaps ”great storytelling comes with great audiences”. i don’t really care if this “great” audience is small, large or global. but it’s out there, it consists of the people who feel enriched by my stories & i’m writing for you, too, folks.”
this was great. i was reading, i was responding, and though nobody was responding to my responses, i felt quite happy having discovered the question “who am i writing for” that i had never consciously pondered.
—amanda’s article actually came out of an earlier post in htmlgiant by catherine lacey, which i didn’t enjoy quite as much because i found it too slick and trying a bit too hard and because i found many of the comments fairly smug and trying too hard…
lacey made a few interesting points though & one in particular solicited yet another response from me, which i want to share:
“your point on comparing the time it takes to make it vs. the time the high from feedback lasts never occurred to me before. i suppose that i don’t believe i only write for the readers who read my work but that my work (stories, thoughts, creations, rants, whatever) join something larger, a field if you will, a secret canon of creations, a tapestry woven by everyone who creates—writers and non-writers. the pleasure to have contributed to that and have done it with others, nameless ones, but many, many others, does last a lifetime, i believe. this may of course be highfalutin’ hokey, but there, i’ve said it and you’ve read it.”
constant readers of this blog will recognise one of my all-time favorite concepts, the living field (cp. this interview).
—okay, you’re done here. now, shall we have a conversation, or do you want to pick one (or more) of these wonderful things:
- …my recording of “christina heppel” , a new story by marcelle heath, published in PANK, or
- …my very short raving review of “love doesn’t work“, a story collection by henning koch published by dzanc books, or
- …my daily story site 100 days and nights, where i turned to my dark side, because i’m getting bored with butterflies and princess dresses?
… my bonus question that i’m really, really curious about:
who do you think is your target group, your ideal reader?
how does he look like, or is it a she? what’s s/he looking for?