“What’s in there?”
“Only what you take with you.”
— Luke Skywalker and Yoda, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Bit of an out of context quote (though the image of the cave is a very strong one for many people), sure but it applies to what you read. We all bring our baggage with us. I’ve picked up certain books that I know are good novels. I read the reviews. I can tell the writing is good.
But I’m just not ready to read it.
I had that experience with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. I started the book no less than four times. It was painful. I was coming out of a depression when I felt a little too much like Kote/Kvothe. And that’s something writers (or at least I) worry about: you don’t know what any given reader is bringing with them into the cave where you’re doing your magic. It’s nothing against Rothfuss. I just brought my own issues with me, what I was worried about that day, what I had been working towards for a long time.
Second example for me is Cat Rambo’s short story “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable,” which appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine earlier this year. I don’t read much sci-fi, compared to history and fantasy, but this one stuck with me. The premise is that cloning is a viable technology, and the protagonist’s mother loses her cat. If you’re a cat person you may know a bit (or a lot) about calicoes and tortoiseshells. Their fur patterns are random, and their personalities tend to be pretty quirky and often on the strong side. The parallel story is about the protagonist losing the woman that he loves and instead of letting go, he has her cloned, too.
Lots of weighty issues, and Rambo penned a moving, very human story about what issues rise around cloning and death. But what I kept thinking about is my own dead cat. Lucy wasn’t a tortoiseshell, but a common ginger tabby. Loud, often destructive, but I loved her. So I had no choice really but to filter Rambo’s lovely story through my own experiences, and in this case, I believe she helped me get a bit of closure.
My point is that as a writer, you have to keep in mind what your audience is bringing to the story–and what you are. Some people (myself included) start writing fiction because it is therapeutic, and reading can have the same effect–it lets you see things from another point of view (well, some books give you a lot of POVs, heh). You can’t predict how readers will react, and I don’t lose too much sleep over it, but some passages I kind of wonder about. The cure to that is a good alpha reader and a diverse pool of betas. But that’s another post for another day.
What book or story has resonated–good or bad–with what you’re experiencing in life? Let me know in the comments.