Recently I posted about Matt Archer: Monster Hunter, and about how much I was enjoying those books. Today I want to mention another YA book, Imminent Danger And How To Fly Straight Into It by Michelle Proulx. It has just been released, and I’m about 40% into it right now (because I’m just a hip, happening kind of cool cat who is always on top of the latest thing) and it is one of those books that reminds me why I love reading in the first place.
It’s easy to get sidetracked by important serious issues and pontificate on themes of post-materialist isolation as a consequence of the inevitable decay of the gestalt zeitgeist in the face of existential pique as a metaphor for man’s inhumanity to the inner personhood of blah, blah, blahty blah. And in conclusion, blah.
Trust me, once I get my blovation groove on, I can deconstruct with the best of them. I’ll go all Wittgenstein on you, see if I don’t. I’ve got literary cred out the wahzoo.
But, seriously, folks, isn’t fiction really all about enjoying ourselves? Isn’t reading supposed to be fun?
I think that’s one of the reasons that I am so often drawn to the kind of fiction that the folks at the NYT Review Of Books pretend doesn’t exist. Genre fiction. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, YA fiction. I don’t think that there is anything inherently more fun about a book that has a dragon or a spaceship in it (God knows there’s a lot of really dull genre fiction out there) but I do believe that once you embrace being a literary pariah you don’t feel the need to write Serious Fiction to impress the post-docs at Harvard.
It’s kind of like: “Well, I got a big scary monster in chapter one, so I’m out of the running for being used in ENG 301 as a text–might as well skip the Zola reference and Nabokov allusions and go straight to the part where the cute guys take off their shirts and blow shit up.”
What I’m getting at is that I tend to forget that as a writer I am primarily an entertainer. That’s my job, to keep my readers entertained. Not to convince them that I am smarter than everyone else, or to instruct them on my personal interpretation of the flaws in Calvinist cosmology, or to be a catalyst for social change, but to simply give people something that’s enjoyable. Fun.
That’s not to say that a writer of fiction shouldn’t have serious moments–both of the authors I’ve referenced above have points in their stories where things do not look good for the home team. Entertainment can often be pretty darned bleak–we like horror movies and sad movies because, well, we’re kind of a perverse species.
At the end of the day, though, I have to remind myself that the readers aren’t being paid to read my book, they are (ideally, anyway) paying me, and that means that I am writing for them, to give them something that they will enjoy. Using my writing as a means of confronting my personal demons is all well and good (and I certainly do that) but I’d best teach those demons to dance in step and carry a tune.
And you know, I’ve written little reminders to myself in my characters. The reason that James isn’t called “Jim” or “Jimmy” but always “James” is because of James And The Giant Peach (I have no idea if anyone out there caught the parallels, but they are in there) and Godiva is named after a brand of chocolate, and Cobb Russwin is named after a lock manufacturer–little in-jokes to myself to remind me that if my reader isn’t having fun then I’m not doing my job.
All of which is to justify spending time reading about a high school girl getting kidnapped by aliens instead of sitting down and writing. I’m doing research, damnit.