I was thinking about this last night, when I wanted to escape from the world for an hour or two. I was in a sour mood, and sometimes being able to step into a book gives me the mental reset I need to regain my normal mental equilibrium… but the book I had been reading wasn’t holding my attention at all. So then I was contemplating two things. One, I was tempted to go ask for book recommendations on social media. With the stipulation that the books that were recommended not be ‘oh, you should read this.’ Or even worse, ‘everyone should be reading this!’ because ugh. No. I don’t take books like medicine.
I take my books like I take chocolate these days. As a treat, to be savored for the sweet and the little hit of theobromine that helps make my brain happy. If I am reading fiction, it’s as a pick-me-up or it’s because I’m supposed to read for review or feedback – which is a completely different mental place. And I definitely do not virtue signal with my reading. So I didn’t take to the intarwebs and ask for recommendations.
I did soak in a hot bath, read a chapter of a great book on retraining your brain for math, and then contemplated my own writing. Why I write what I write. It’s to entertain and amuse. Sometimes, rarely, it’s to ignite the imagination of the reader. The Violet Mouse ends the way it does because there are literally infinite possible endings. As I told my mother when we were discussing it, the only other way to have done it was sort of a ‘choose your own adventure’ collection, where I wrote story after story all coming from the last moment in the titular story. Instead what I wanted was for the reader to follow through on their own and be off and running with the ‘what comes next?’
It’s a bit like writing sex. The best way to make it really sexy for the reader is to leave most of the action to their imagination. The writer’s job is to set the scene, and then take a step back for a minute to let the reader’s own mind take up the slack. Then, step back in a few beats down the timeline and pick it back up. Done well, this can generate far more mental heat than describing every slippery moment and touch. Which is not to say there’s not a market for erotica – there certainly is. I’ve been in a few groups where authors talked about their marketing and sales, and it was eye opening. I couldn’t write it – would bore me to tears very quickly – but given the strange sub genres that have popped up, it does lead me to wonder about the paths we go if we aren’t willing to let our imaginations free. If you want the entertainment spoon fed to you, is that amusing?
It must be to some. Which is the delightful thing about writing. You can write as many stories as there are kinds of people. And since they are your stories, they have the flavor of you. Looking back at my own work, I can see that I have certain proclivities. I tend to write character-driven stories. I tend to be ‘gentle’ enough that I have surprised and shocked readers when I used rough language or worse, killed off characters. I don’t usually write dark. I know why, and where all of that comes from. Usually. Sometimes something pops out that is like ‘huh. That’s weird.’ But then again. I rarely analyze myself through the lens of my own writing, because I’m not writing to put me on the page, I’m writing to amuse and entertain.
Take The Case of the Perambulating Hatrack (please! goodness knows where it will take you, it’s running away with me!). Like Pixie Noir, I started writing Hatrack on a lark, with no expectation of… anything. It was a prompt challenge piece. It wasn’t supposed to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That first scene in Pixie was a throwaway piece to make a friend laugh. That I later finished the trilogy of noir books, by that time happily married to that friend… Makes me wonder where Hatrack is taking me. At nearly complete arc, novel length, it’s still a prompt challenge. Every week a new prompt takes it down a turn I could not have seen coming. And it’s fun to write. Pretty sure I couldn’t sustain that over and over again, but there is something to be said for writing to amuse myself.
Because when this stops being entertaining, exploring the worlds in my mind and writing them down, I’m going to stop writing. I’m thinking that’s not going to happen any time soon. In the end, it’s why I do what I do. To entertain and amuse myself. That it does the same for others is pure gravy.
There’s a sarcastic thing you’ll hear someone say once in a while, or at least I have. “Do I amuse you? Am I a clown?” Well… I was. I even have a little red nose (not the full honker, just a little cap) around here somewhere to prove it. But clowning isn’t a job, it’s a calling. And when I write, I’m not clowning around. I am, however, very aware of my role in what I do. And that isn’t to educate with my fiction, or achieve some sort of social betterment. At least, not like the way you usually see that attempted. But if I can cheer a heart, and give someone an escape route from reality for an hour or two, so they may return to this real world refreshed and lightened… I am achieving a better society, one amusement at a time.