Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Yeah, But Can You REALLY Know Them?

"You know there's other ways of speaking
Words are just the deep end
I'm not good at keeping secrets from you"
-Russell Crowe, Other Ways of Speaking

If I'm in a low mood, I like to hear Russell Crowe sing. It almost always helps. Ditto for Chris Isaak or Mark Knopfler. Of course, if I'm in a good mood, I like to hear these guys sing too. They make sense to me. Ask anyone and they can name a few singers or bands that fit into the category of "they sing about what I'm feeling."

Now, as I have yet to meet any of the afore-mentioned guys I have no way of comparing who they are in their music to who they are in reality. Part of me hopes I never will meet any of them. What happens if I dislike the guy? I hope that wouldn't be the case. After all, they're the ones who write the songs. Still, we don't necessarily write the same as we live. Or, do we?

I'm not saying Stephen King is really a murderer or anything, but how much of us comes through in what we write? If you read/listen to enough of a given writer's work, can you truly get an idea of who they are? If all you have of a person is something they've specifically created for the public sphere, can you match that up to who they are in the private one?

Jenny, Shane, and I were recently talking about patterns in writers' work and I'm starting to re-think having Jenny read my thesis. I'll be giving her a stack of my writing to look at all in one go, and suddenly I'm thinking of how I'll be open to the same kind of pondering I do to others. It's strange to think of someone being in my head that much. I know where certain things come from that go into my stories, and it's odd to think of someone else knowing the same.

I guess my question is this: Would I really like Russell Crowe in person? How far into someone's head can you get without knowing them in real life?


Mishell said...

You know, I think that the larger the body of work you look at, the more you know about the author. If you look at one poem, story, novel, song, etc., you get a feel for the author's style, but when you start looking at more of the author's work, you start to see patterns, themes, and motiffs that crop up repeatedly. It's through these that you can begin to know the author. Like Stephen King, to use your example, a lot of his work deals with technology, ecology, human hubris, good vs. evil, adolescent angst. Because these topics keep popping up, the reader, or scholar as it is, is able to decipher a bit of what the man's opinions of each subject are.

It's inevitable that a bit of the author appears in his/her work. You can't create a biography of someone this way, but you can definately find out what's important to him/her, and how they stand on the subject.

So, I have to say that though the author may not be exactly who you think they are, and s/he may surprise you in some of his/her beliefs, their work can give you a basic understand of him/herself. If you like a person through their work, more than likely you won't be completely disgusted with them personally.

Shane said...

I'm torn on this topic. While I agree that a writer naturally puts bits of themself into their writing, I have trouble believing you can get a complete picture from this.

To use my own writing as example, a lot of my early stuff was very autobiographical. But they were also very focussed on a single thought or feeling I'd had. Can we really know a person from such a myopic view of them? It's like taking slices of a life and trying to imagine the entire meal from a few crumbs.

I think I can be quite funny at times, but how much of that comes out in my writing? I don't know. Maybe, after a lot more stories, people will be able to get a picture of who I am through my writing. Maybe I'm just in denial and they already have (shudder).

Anyway, my advise is to not sweat it too much and let Jenny have a read. That is unless your story is a "fictional" acount of how you would have committed a murder you were already accused of and, somehow, got off. In that case, maybe just keep it to yourself.

Debbie said...

I have to agree with Shane on this one. I think people may get one small bit of who you are, but no where close to the whole person. People at work see and talk to me everyday. Yet one woman was shocked when I said I drank. Another has a suspicion that I'm a wild woman.

One reason for this is that while I'm myself at work, I am my more professional self. Another is that they project a bit of themselves and how they think I am the same or different than they are. So your reader is going to project onto your work.

And go ahead and let Jenny read it. After reading MMG, she said she would never ask me which parts were versions of things that had actually happened. I did worry about that before giving the group the pages to read. No one asked. It's fiction. Period.

Jenny said...

I'm not so torn on this subject. I completely think that you will get the author's character through his/her work.

Will you be able to predict whether or not they're a drug addict or something really specific like where they went on their first date with the woman they married? Nah. Nothing like that.

However, through reading Stephen King, you know he's not a murderer. How's that when he writes so grusomely and with such detail? Because the stories, in the end, are about human beings who are overcoming the most extreme challenges they can face--either through creativity (Misery), or through relationships (The Dead Zone, Lisey's Story) or through other, internal resources of strength that the main character didn't know they had (The Stand). It's not about the violence, it's about the reaction to the violence.

I can go on about King because I've read quite a lot. I think it's a great exercise to read an author's body of work. Pick an author you really admire and pay attention to how those character's act on the whole. You'll get an idea for whether or not this is someone you'd want to meet in a dark alley...or not.

Now, you should definitely still let me read the thesis...because I'm not here to psychoanalize your work, I'm here to read and enjoy your work. And the truth is, the more vulnerable you make yourself, the closer you get to the gold mine because it's the truth. Readers dig that.

Jenny said...

please ignore all spelling errors in the preeveeous comment

-John said...

Here's something to think about: How do you psychoanalyze authors using their writing if they themselves do not truly know themselves? OR, how do you know whether they realized they would be psychoanalyzed, and decided to throw red herrings in the way?

Shane said...

But it all comes down to the "type" of red herring used. The stinkier the fish, the bigger the secret their trying to hide.

Mishell said...

Here, here, Jenny! Truth is what the writing is about. Not biographical truth, as so many of us learn in our beginning writing (and some refuse to move past), but humanistic truth. The only way to find that humanistic truth is for the author to put a bit of herself into the writing. So what if someone decides to do a psychoanalysis of the you, as the author, and decides that you're insane, or even perfectly normal. That's just something for the reader to occupy herself with. What matters is that the work rings true enough for others to feel it deserves closer study.

As an author, you shouldn't even be worrying about what people will say about you through the work. You should just be focusing on the honesty of it as a story. Since it's coming from your mind, you can't help but insert something of you into it, so just forget about what future scholars will say and write. Oh yeah, and let Jenny read it!

Whittaker Luckless said...

I don't know.... I know that I have specifically deviated from many of my values in putting down some of the things I've written. Many things are clear to me which don't necessarily mesh with, say, T. Volker. While a lot of what motivates Volker doesn't sit with me. But that's on characters--characters are different than what you all are describing.

But all the same: I'm writing something now in a genre that I'd never tried before. And to do it, I have had to examine how I see things, and portray a world that is different than that.