Friday, September 11, 2009

On Bitchness

I've wanted to write this one for a while. However, you don’t just wake up one day and decide to elaborate on the likes of Neil Gaiman. On the other hand after much thought and anxiety I decided it might not be a bad thing to fill in one of the corners on this discussion.

The title of this blog of course refers to the now famous post Gaiman put up in response to a fan's whining about how he wished GRRM would just hurry the hell up and finish Dance and the rest of ASOIAF. He was tired of waiting and couldn't understand why Martin was being so lazy.

Gaiman's response was the now famous "GRRM is not your bitch." In essence he said he didn’t sign a contract with you personally to write the rest of the series so that it would be available at your convenience. He is producing art and that takes time. Get a life, read another author, reread the series but do something other than complain. He hasn’t let anyone down. He hasn’t violated any contracts. He is trying to make the work the best he can.

After reading the initial post I agreed and I still do. Some fans try and translate the consumer culture out there to the world of books. Afraid it doesn't work that way. Liking an authors work is a compliment but expecting them to produce on demand is another thing entirely. That is expecting someone to be your bitch. And it is wrong. Anyone who has ever tried to write seriously knows just how hard it is to produce day after day after day. Salute George R R Martin for continuing to work in the face of such misunderstanding. He has been described as an incredibly nice man. I'm sure that is true, and furthermore I am sure he would have to be in the face of fans that think that writing novels is a form of pay per view.

But there is an aspect to the discussion I have wanted to address. Gaiman touched on it when he said "Hope that the author is writing the book you want to read, and not dying, or something equally as dramatic."

And of course I thought of Robert Jordan. As I believe that was Gaiman's intent.

As I understood it Gaiman's message was that if the writer is dying and can't write the book you want then think about how bad it is for him as a human being. Don't selfishly think about how bad its going to be for you because you can't read the rest of the series.

But when Robert Jordan died I did think about the series, as did his legions of fans. I remember feeling the loss of the individual, though I did not know him. Everything I read pointed to how devoted he was to his family and friends. And the private loss of those people I could empathize with though I could not share because I had not known him in that capacity. I had lost loved ones to cancer and could empathize with what the family went through. His death saddened me and I did pray for them.

But what authors do is a tricky thing. Through their writings they can make you feel as if you know the people in their books as well as you've known any individual in the "real" world. In a sense when Robert Jordan died he took a lot of "people" with him. Characters in a book yes. Not real people yes. But still something that we as readers and fans have invested time and energy in. And as Freud said anything one invests time and energy in, whether professionally or as a hobby, becomes a "loved object." The loss of a the loved object triggers psychological responses. Some of them very deep.

Look at the behavior of individuals who have lost something they have invested time and energy in: a kind of depression and sadness sets in that through time the individual works through. And so becomes stronger for the next time.

Many of my generation, when we started reading Jordan, had cut our teeth on the lord of the rings, the shannarra books, the Earthsea and Narnia series, and others. Most of them complete by the time we read them. The sheer scope of Jordan's project both thrilled and amazed us. "Twelve books! R U Serious!" is what I remember emailing a friend. I remember once in a journal entry where I marked off where I was when each book came out. The completion of such a project in all its infinite complexity was something we eagerly awaited. One of those moments we all wanted to stand around together and say we were here when he did it. We followed along, and watched. An "I was there " moment.

And now we wont have it. We will have Brandon Sanderson's completion of it.

Brandon Sanderson, a writer I genuinely admire and whose career I have eagerly followed since Elantris(for sheer magic systems, he is hard to top, as well as pacing and characterizations, the fight scenes in the mistborn series are like a matrix movie fight for the mind's eye, I hope somone films them someday), is more than capable of finishing the series. I am going to buy the books when they come out, devour them and enjoy the hell out of myself in sheer thankfulness that we have them. I am entirely certain that Sanderson will follow the notes and instructions Jordan left behind, and will complete Jordan's vision of the series.

What I will also be thinking is it’s a shame the author couldn't be the one to have completed it. Some would say that we will have the author's book. Sanderson is writing as Jordan would have.

There's the rub. He is, but he isn't.

He's completing Jordan's outline and descriptions. He is finishing the book as the author originally imagined it and left instructions for its completion. But it isn't Jordan completing the book, and that is a difference. Not better, or worse, but it would have been good to see the final book and say, this is the author's complete work.


Some fans are greedy and just want to be entertained. Most of us though genuinely feel that anxiety that an author may not stick around to complete the works we enjoy and admire them for. That latter feeling, that anxiety is natural and a sign of how well the author has done his/her job. We have our own lives: if the work isn't completed we will move on and do other things, read other books, live our lives. But there will be a sense of loss there. Not personal, but a sense of loss nonetheless.

That is why sometimes I find myself thinking come on George get on with it, even though I know I'm not being fair, or understanding. I know art can't be rushed but still, part of me inside is chewing my fingernails. I'm not being a crass consumer, I would just rather not lose another thing I've invested time and energy in. And I think that is the way some fans feel. Its not bitchness, its an anxiety.

As Chaucer said "The life so short, the arte so long to learne." All authors are working against the clock. There is never enough time to finish, make the book as good as you want it. As fans I think the majority of us understand that. But we would hate to lose that sense of completion also.

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