Be the Clapper

So I woke up this morning feeling tired.  Partly this is because I spent yesterday painting walls and waxing floors and things hurt.  Partly it is that I had a rousing battle with my bedclothes.  I don’t even know why.  I just now they were all tangled at my feet, and I had the feeling of having run miles in my sleep.

While I was getting the holy caffeine needed to even read let alone write blog posts, I found myself thinking about why I write.

There are reasons for this.

Recently I had an interview with the Baen podcast people.  It was about the anthology Time and Again As Time Goes By {I mangle titles, even my own or those my own work is in} in which I have a short story “So Little and So Light” which if Prometheus were given for short stories would definitely be in the running.

One of the questions, which I never answered, because the question about how I write sort of answered it, was “did I put a libertarian message in on purpose?”

Well, no, I didn’t.  I was halfway through the story when I realized what the message was.  I was pleased with it, but it hadn’t been my intention to make it libertarian.  It had been my intention to make it a time-travel romance which is what was requested.

This is because my writing is like being chained to a mad man who mutters things I try to translate into making sense.

The other reason is that we — Larry and I, particularly, over the Sad Puppies thing, have talked a lot about message fiction as opposed to fun fiction.

This might give someone the impression that I oppose messages in fiction.  For someone who is a massive Heinlein fan and who wrote A Few Good Men this would seem the height of hypocrisy.

What I oppose is thinking that the message justifies the book, and you need to do nothing else to make the book good.  I oppose the sort of lazy thinking that dictates that if the writer is on “the right side” and saying the “right things” he/she doesn’t need to bother with drawing the reader in or making the experience worthwhile for the reader.

That is a fine accomplishment for the writer of short political pamphlets, but novels and shorts require more.  They require …

They require that the writer be good enough to establish a sort of resonance between himself and the reader.

This can’t be achieved by shouting slogans at the reader, or even by creating people so cliched that the reader can see the wires moving them.  It can’t be achieved by being a good boy and/or girl and putting in what you were taught as “right” in school.

Which brings me to “why I write.”

Even when I was a clumsy writing sprog, when I sent stories out, I often got acceptances after rejections.  I.e. I’d get a rejection and then a week later or a month or once a year, I’d get a note from the editor saying “I thought your story was trite, but I keep thinking about it.  Can I have it?”

And that is why I write.  This effect, which I consciously struggle for, is to make my world so realistic, my characters so alive, that they stay with you as something you lived through, the emotions resonating in you, the thoughts coming back again and again.

It’s not as simple as sloganeering.  The feelings you get from the experience will often not be mine (judging by GOOD reviews that say things I wasn’t aware of putting in.)

But it is the only reason to write: for a moment, my mind becomes a bell that, in resonating, makes yours vibrate.  It’s the closest we people of flesh can come to being in someone else’s mind, in that lonely space behind the eyes.

And that’s why I write and what I struggle towards: to be the clapper on that bell that strikes a note so pure and so brilliant that other minds will pick it up and carry it on.

I’m nowhere near there, but that’s what I work towards — to be the clapper.


  1. Reblogged this on Cedar Writes and commented:

    “But it is the only reason to write: for a moment, my mind becomes a bell that, in resonating, makes yours vibrate. It’s the closest we people of flesh can come to being in someone else’s mind, in that lonely space behind the eyes.”

  2. I’m glad to finally hear someone say this about writing fiction. Oddly enough, the scholarly side covers this type of thing much better than fiction writing. Now, it’s different there obviously. In non-fiction writing there is no duty to entertain (although it’s nice if you can pull it off) because the point of the piece is the message. That much being said, it’s something that was beaten into us a history students.

    We were told over and over and (Oh I’m so) over (it) that we were entering a conversation. That we could feel free to agree or disagree with what had come before and that someone would come along at some point and disagree with us. It was accepted. I see this subject referred to in fiction writing blogs a lot, but this is the first time I’ve seen it tackled head on like this. Thanks. I got a kick out of reading this.

      1. My guess is that “synova” is working out how to get comments via email.

        Of course, it may also be a case of “being testy”. [Wink]

      2. I posted something that didn’t show up. That’s all. Was trying to figure out what happened to it. 🙂

        1. Okay, finally on a real computer for the first time today. I had just posted to get sympathy, and while I’m over feeling sorry for myself I’ll explain anyhow since I don’t have any bell puns (punning not being among my strengths.)

          I was at my husband’s work, supposedly doing homework in a spare cubicle, but actually surfing on my tiny little tablet. I read what Sarah wrote here then went to Baen and happened to notice the contest and thought… Oh… that’s the book with her story… and then I thought, what a wuss you are to not enter that because 25 words is the devil. Buck up, cupcake! You can do it! (Yes, I’ll get to the problem with this plan.) So I spent a good hour (because 25 words is the devil) trying to think of some evocative “hint” science fiction romance. I finally get something that I’m at least not embarrassed by (25 words is the devil) and go to get the email so I can send it in and… Yes… deadline Feb. 20th.

          So, I was looking for sympathy and also decided to inflict it on you all, because I’m giving that way. And I posted and it disappeared. (Might maybe have been a clue.) Anyhow… it’s this…

          “You’re a perv.”
          “Not so much.” Rhex gazed at the naked, gem-blue woman that floated in the center of the star-deck. “I think she’s alive.”

  3. Much better that, than to be a little box that plugs into the wall and turns off old people’s lights when they clap their hands. 🙂

  4. You bees the clapper, we bees the gong, young Portagee.
    Naturally, of course, my backbrain kicks in with a stirring rendition of “Ring My Bell!”

      1. Is baaaaaaaaaaaaaad pronounced with a deep, tolling, sonorous note? Did it ring true? Have we struck right? Shall others chime in?

        Are you the belle of the bell?

          1. Well, you know, some authors want their stories to pack a punch. You want yours to Pachabel.

            Is that an incoming carp, aimed right for my head? Careful where you aim that thing!

    1. Great. Now I’m going to be stuck with the Will Smith version of this stuck in my head. Thanks.

  5. “So Little and So Light” is in “As Time Goes By”, not in “Time and Again”. I had to find it so I could read it…

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