Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Pulling punches

All that disturbing imagery about corridors and bones and fortresses...well, let's just say the scene went well. I'd gotten about halfway through it when a comment made by one of my crit group members made me go back and look at it again to see whether I'd lived up to her expectations. She was envisioning a certain nuance and feel to the scene, and suddenly I wasn't sure whether I'd done as well in expressing that as I could. When I read it over I realized that the answer was no. I hadn't done the job; I'd pulled the punch. So I went back into it and added what I'd left out. Incidentally, taped to the front of my printer is a fortune cookie slip with the words "Do it right the first time."

Not too long ago another friend asked me what type of reputation I wanted to cultivate as a writer. Some of my scenes are rather explicit in various ways, and as I gain skill they're only going to get more so. I'm not exactly exploring easy issues here. Rape, murder, teenage pregnancy, intimacy of varying degrees, polygamy, Machiavellian policies, slavery, loss, self-sacrifice...and the list goes on. I could, as one character puts it, "softcoat the issue" and paint a picture that is just a little blurred around the edges to soften them, make things easier on the reader. But if that's what I'm going to do, then why write about those issues at all? Perhaps a cookbook or crafts handbook would be better.... Nah! Not my department.

I write epic fantasy, not cookbooks. But first and foremost, I write about human issues, and no human issue is ever easy. If I pull my punches, not only will the book not be as good, but I'll always know I could have done better, hit harder, maybe knocked down that wall that always seems to stand between any writer and publication--or even between a published writer and real success. So I'm not going to pull away from the hard issues. I'm going to plow right through the middle of them, damn the torpedoes. Every book I've ever loved and wanted to read over and over again was written by an author who wasn't afraid to tackle the hard questions about life.

Guess I should have known it would come down to this. 'Way back in First Grade when the teachers had my class perform Snow White as a Christmas play, it was my best friend who got the part of the beautiful, innocent Snow White. I, on the other hand, was cast as the wicked Queen.