When I started committing my scribblings to the Web sixteen years ago — I'd been rattling around elsewhere in the cloud for a decade before that — I suffered from no illusions about the quality of my writing: it was serviceable, maybe, and it was grammatically sound, usually, but other than that, it was largely indistinguishable from the stuff being slapped onto a million other sites. Now there are a billion other sites, some of them written by people with actual talent. Despite my face-in-the-crowd status, however, I have achieved fame beyond my wildest dreams, which sounds impressive only when you consider that in most of those dreams, I die alone and unknown — "just another wayward soul the county had to claim," as Tanya Tucker sang in "What's Your Mama's Name," which comes to mind not just for that one line, or because it's awfully "grown-up" material for a girl no older than Rebecca Black, but because in the space of three verses in three minutes it tells a very sad, and surprisingly complete, story. For almost forty years now, I've thought "Damn, I wish I could do that," but I never could.

One could argue, I suppose, that the reason I never could was simply that I never needed to: I'd gotten all the validation I could reasonably expect, putting a thousand words a day, probably half of which were quoted from elsewhere, onto the site. It's not like I was chunked into the sea and then challenged to swim back to shore Or Else. And nothing I was writing was so compelling that I had to push everything else to the side of the plate to concentrate on it. Besides, I am somewhat anxious by nature; as I write this, I'm wondering if the air conditioner is ever going to come back on, after whatever horrible things happened to it while I was changing the filter. Now I've changed this filter thirty times or so, and at no time did I mess anything up, but there's always a first time, and it's a Sunday and therefore even if I can get anyone out here to repair the damage I've done, it will cost me half again as much, and besides, it's a Sunday in July and therefore the temperature will remain above 90 degrees Fahrenheit all day and most of the evening.

(Update: The A/C just cycled back on. All that angst for nothing.)

Fortunately, I am enough of a generalist, another way of saying I know a smattering of many things but not much about anything, that the old saw "Write what you know" doesn't faze me. (P. J. O'Rourke begs to differ: "The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad, how much combat do you think he saw?") The negative — "Don't write what you don't know" — is perhaps a little easier to defend, but only a little. I was talking to a friend this week about a story that was coming together in my head, a story that threatened to turn into some sort of romance, which of course disqualified me from writing it on WWYK grounds. The friend pointed to Romancing the Stone, a 1984 film by Robert Zemeckis in which a romance writer has been writing stuff she doesn't know, and quite successfully at that, until she's called away for an adventure of her own. "Yeah, and look what happened to her," I said. "Thrown to the crocodiles." (Actually, I said "alligators," but there's no reason you need to know that.)

None of this presents a problem, particularly, except for the fact that the story coming together in my head keeps cycling through lines and set pieces and scenes and more lines and it won't go away. I've been fighting with it for several weeks now. At some point I'm going to have to write it, just to present it with a location that isn't the edge of my synapses while I'm trying to get some sleep fercrissake. Its one redeeming feature is that it's in a genre considered disreputable — fanfiction — and therefore it's highly unlikely to be exposed to anyone other than the members of that particular fandom. And it's written in the style I know best: First Person Oblivious. One advantage of this scheme is that it contains some built-in resistance to Mary Sue-ishness, given my general unwillingness to say anything kindly about myself.

What I find most curious, though, is the fact that this entire tale grew from a throwaway one-liner, and now said one-liner isn't even integral to the plot. I have always believed that fictional characters will do as they damned well please regardless of the author's intentions; now I'm sure of it.

The Vent

#781
  15 July 2012

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