…thought about this a lot because editing Never Knew Another brings it back to me. I remember thinking right after Last Dragon that people don’t know what they want. Basically, I thought, before I had a book out at all, and I was in the soulless sprawl in between Dallas and Fort Worth, that everyone was unhappy. They wandered book shops and libraries miserable because they didn’t even know what they wanted. They knew what they didn’t want, right? They know they didn’t want a book like that, or with that kind of cover, or with that kind of story, or that was too much like what they read in school which was difficult. But, did they know what they wanted? No.
People don’t know what they want. They want to be challenged, but not too much. They want to think, but they want to agree with it before they read it. They want to be thrilled, except that too much thrills are silly. They want to be scared, except they also want to sleep at night peacefully.
There is no such thing as satisfaction, only dissatisfaction, and success is found in the absence of dissatisfaction. Nothing broke the dream, to the reader. Nothing tore them away from what they expected to receive. They were told they would get something, they got, and thus were satisfied. At sci-fi conventions a vociferous individual casually and cheerfully told me how much he hated my first novel because he could not read it quickly–could not just digest the dream like a film in his face. Breaking his dream was breaking his satisfaction. Never break a dream.
Except, of course, when a story lays a trap. The story had seemed like such a simple thing, with such an unassumingly fantasy cover, and it had seemed like the whole series was moving in this one direction, towards one thing, and then this burst of energy rises up in one moment’s flash and the dream becomes a bubble in the mind too strong and proud for breaking, or perhaps breaking everything.
Afterwards, what seemed like just a simple thing, a story of plain thing, just another thing like the thing you read last week, has grown tentacles and hair. You want to put it away, but you also want to keep it. If it failed at its first impression, and did not lead you down the path you thought you were travelling upon, it won’t really matter what you thought of that momentary, unsettling burst of broken expectations for good or ill. It will remain sour in your memory, like biting into a sandwich and discovering a hard-boiled egg was in your palm all that time. But, the sour is good for you. It’s like mind vegetables, that disturbs you into thinking longer and harder, and maybe realizing how much you liked it sour.
I think of that when I think of Dogsland. Let it be just a plain fantasy. Let it be just what you thought it should be, until the pieces don’t line up, and the goal of it all becomes puzzling, and the next book will come and it will only get harder to place all the moving joints in a line. Then, the third book comes, and all lost highways remain lost, but the realization comes that they should be lost, for that’s what life leaves inside our souls: too many trains, too many stations, too many lost things accumulating and what rises to the surface is as much a lie as it is a memory.
But people think they want a fantasy novel with a beginning, a middle, and an end. People think they want a simple story, with simple themes, that entertains them, just like the one they read last week that had such cute characters, like ciphers of modernism planted into an orchard of lost times in a valley between mountains.
In my defense with that statement I just made, about what people want, which is a gross generalization, at the time I had spent long years living in a town with more magazines dedicated to the care and feeding of Alpacas than the care and feeding of literature, where everyone kept telling me to write something easy that didn’t make them think because making sure their kids were reading was more important than reading for oneself. I thought I’d give them something easy, something that seemed like it was so easy, and maybe there’s a trap in it because it isn’t so easy. Now it’s coming and I’ll finish what I started, and lay all the bones of that time in my life down to rest, burn the ground where the blood of it poisons the ground. There’s nothing noble in poverty, in living somewhere that doesn’t have a place for you anywhere with the skills it gave you once, that holds you in contempt if it heard you speak a while. Run while you can.
Me, I’m running through the sewers of something that looks like such a simple fantasy. I’m breathing in the stink of the killing floor, and pink demon smoke. That’s where I’ll be a long while, putting that time of my life to rest. There’s post-modern fantasy, like LAST DRAGON and MAZE. Then there’s “My elves are different” (or, in this case, demons), and the road will be familiar enough that people won’t realize how different it gets by the end. It seemed like such a simple thing, didn’t it? I thought I was going to get this simple story, and everything turned into something else and I don’t even know where that happened to me.
And I was thinking about poverty, and urban loneliness, and the way GLBT people in suburban Texas were generally treated like pariahs for no good reason, and the people who needed to know what that felt like were people who would never read the memoirs of a gay or lesbian teen.
Why do any interviews, when I seem to be interviewing myself?
I’m done with one. I turned it in. I don’t feel like talking about it anymore. Time to sleep, read, and write some more.