The Stories Begun











{September 5, 2013}   Fandom and Head-Canon

Okay, drawing back the writing curtain for a minute.  I usually don’t talk about my process/views on the art’s interaction with readers this much, but this is important to how I read and write, so why not. You have been warned – there’s a heavy mix of academics and fandom in this.

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I’ve been doing a lot of work lately on my writing, so it completely makes sense that the writing blog got put aside. It may also be that I’ve been writing less here because when I get depressed I internalize so much that I don’t even write–and if anything can be said of this year, it is that it’s been an adventure in depression and working through it–but only enough to work on Stars.

So, a few months ago, I was in a race to finish this project that had been absolutely kicking my butt for over a year: the second story in my thirteen story series of faerie tale adaptations. Strains of a Sonant Storie is my writing baby. I have a lot of projects I have worked on and care about, but none so deeply important to me as Strains. The theory of Strains is as much about taking some well-known (and intrinsic to my childhood) tales, some lesser-known (also intrinsic to my childhood) tales and writing them in fun, different ways as it is about taking the stories that sit in my heart and finding a way for me to own their existence in my life. I literally have been studying faerie tales and mythology since before I knew what studying was.  I need to tell these stories as much for me as I do for other people.

Stars in Their Houses (my adaptation of The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces, or The Twelve Dancing Princesses) was an exercise in just about everything strange and wonderful in the evolution of a manuscript. When I built Strains as a project back in college, I had just the one tale I planned to tell in a modern context, an adaptation of The Frog Prince. Those plans haven’t changed–I’m still rather excited about my plans in that area. No, it was the plans for Stars that changed dramatically. I was in the middle of scripting out Scarlett (the Little Red Riding Hood adaptation), actually.  I wasn’t even thinking about Stars when it changed so forcefully that I could not work on anything else.

One of the forceful changes was the modernization.  The other was bouncing to and fro between a truly shameful amount of narration styles and narrating characters–third-person omniscient, third-person limited, first-person narration by the mother/youngest sister/oldest sister, to name a few–before realizing that this story belonged to ALL the major players. The story could not live if I didn’t give each sister a voice, nor would it be complete without the soldier. Yes, I had thirteen voices racketing around in my head while I wrote.  And yet another twelve peripheral characters who danced in and out at their whim, bringing little gems of themselves to be used in the story as I liked.  All of these wonderful characters, who I loved so dearly, were clamoring to tell me their back stories and futures and arguing with my decisions about them and showing me their true character with little anecdotes that just had to make it into the script or how was the reader going to understand them?

My head was a busy place.

And it would have stayed that way, but for one of the best decisions I’ve ever made: I put a strict, conscious moratorium on head-canon.

As an occasional fan-fiction writer and full-time head-canon lover, part of me screamed: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! THIS IS THE ONE WORLD YOU HAVE FULL RIGHTS TO AND OWNERSHIP OF! THIS IS WHEN YOU PLAY TO YOUR HEART’S DELIGHT, NOT HOLD BACK! In many ways, that part of my brain was right: If ever, this was the time.

And yet, every time I found myself wandering into the back (or future) stories of characters, I would ask myself: Does this matter? Will it make it into the manuscript in some way, shape, or form?

If the answer was no, and it often was, I put down my planning pen and typed out another paragraph or two in the story.  I would only pick up my pen again if it was absolutely necessary, and not in that Danny Kaye sort of way.  If the answer was yes, on the rare occasion it was, I would scratch out long-hand what it was about the character I needed to know, what event affected how they interacted with other characters, or what time/culture determined the zeitgeist the character exemplified. Then, I typed another paragraph or two to keep me from moving on to the back story of another character.

This was hard. In some ways, it was torture for me because I like things to be complete.  So, a back story for one or two of the twelve dancing partners made me long for the back story of all of them.  College plans for Leoné (sister number seven) made me hurriedly pick up my pen to detail exactly what each girl would do post-secondary . . . and then throw the pen back down because NO!  Leoné’s future is important because reasons that I will not spoil and defining and the culmination of her and another sister’s plot depends on said sister sister waving Leoné’s future career in her face.  In fact, that moment for Leoné is vital to the end of the entire novel ending as it does, and it all hinges on her interrupted college plans.  Pisca (sister number eight, pronounced PISH-uh, for those wondering) also has some schooling relevancy to her plot.  Her skills enable the other sisters to get to the world below.  Of course her schooling is important.

Do you know whose schooling matters other than those two? No one’s. I mean, it’s significant that the older girls took over the secondary education of the younger girls once Mom went SUPER crazy, because it isolates this poor family even more (which is SO necessary to their commitment to escapism in the world below), but post-secondary education REALLY DOESN’T MATTER for the other ten girls.  And it kills me not to figure it out.

So why don’t I?

Because of you, dear reader.

Well, and because of JK Rowling.

But mostly you.

Backing the truck up, I promise.  I grew up as part of the Harry Potter generation and did the whole midnight release madness several times (although, one less time than my father did because HE STOOD IN LINE TO GET THE FOURTH BOOK TO ME RIGHT AWAY BECAUSE HE IS AWESOME AND THE PERFECT FATHER) and, frankly, I just don’t care for him anymore.  Even less than I did at the time I wrote this.  It’s not because he wasn’t a big deal in my teen years or that it wasn’t a joy for my friends to finally understand what reading for fun was, but because HE’S ACTUALLY NOT THAT GOOD. Also, because I HATE HOW ROWLING IS A MASSIVE CONTROL FREAK. She makes fun of non-canon shippers in interviews!  She still gives information out about the future and pasts of completely non-essential characters, not to mention main characters!  She wrote that stupid freaking epilogue because she just couldn’t handle her readership seeing anything about her books other than the way she does! Argue all you want that interviews are not corpus and therefore not canon, but interviews wherein she definitively states the futures of characters are symptomatic of her complete and total distrust of readers (see also: Dumbledore (or any character) being gay everywhere but in the books.)

I NEVER EVER want to be like this.

Because you exist, readers.  I write these books for me, but I share them for and with you.  I trust you with my books and short stories.  Not only that, but I give them to you so that your imagination can bring them to life in a way I cannot and will never be able to do. It is your imagination, your personalities, and your existence as individuals and ‘teams’ and a collective that gives my story meaning beyond “taking the stories that sit in my heart and finding a way for me to own their existence in my life.”  Sure, that’s what they mean to me.  In Stars, the characters mean even more to me because I built a lot of the characters’ isolation around their mother’s health problems – health problems I’ve been dealing with since I was young.

But that’s what they mean to me.  To you, it could be the freedom the girls seek that’s significant.  It could be their relationships with each other.  It could be the dichotomy of their attempts to escape the fatalistic nature of their names as well as how they desperately cling to those names.  It could mean something entirely different to you and, more than anything as an author, I WANT IT TO.

I want my work to mean something to you so badly that I am willing to let go of my instinct to complete things and invite you to complete it in your head.  You will never catch me saying, “Oh, this IS what happens after the last page.”  Nope.  Nuthin’ doin’.  If I ever get asked, “So what happens with blah-blah-blah, or what happens in so-and-so’s life?” my response will be simple: “I don’t know, but what do you think?  I’ll trade theory for theory.”

Because I don’t know.  Because what happens to so-and-so in your head is just as valid as what happens to them in mine.  The book is over.  I told the story I needed to tell. You read the story you needed to hear. Your future for the characters is just as, if not more, important than mine is because YOU are the one who brought life to the characters outside the walls of my mind.  My mind limits my universe.  Your mind expands it.

Now we get to the academic part:

Stories live well past the life of the author.  The fact that there are so many stories without known authors is proof of this fact.  What makes these stories live?  Is it the fact that they were stored somewhere on a page or skin?  Probably not, seeing as the oral tradition is still our strongest tool for dissemination of information (though not necessarily correct information), despite the advent of the internet (hello, Youtube and Vimeo and Instagram Video, etc, etc, etc – even the internet recognizes the ultimate power of the oral tradition).  In fact, Strains of a Sonant Storie is named and written out of respect for those oral traditions! Stories live because the words of the many, not the few, keep them alive and I would be a consummate fool to ignore that, especially in the face of the origins of the stories I am adapting.  The author (you can easily insert artists of any kind here), upon presenting their work to a public (however small that public may be), is relinquishing control of their work to the masses, and doing so because they realize that stories need an audience to properly live.

This is the contract that I believe exists between every writer and every reader, no matter the novel.  In my head, Neville marries Luna.  That’s it.  That’s the future of the books I read.  In my head, Silas Lapham rebuilds his business, but never re-enters society because he knows the person he became in pursuit of it.  In my head, Penelope and Irene Lapham do enter society and, while Penelope is never accepted by anyone except her husband, Tom, Irene shines (but only because she ignores the darker costs of being in society).  That’s the future of the book I read.  Is that how Howells imagined the future? I don’t know – he’s too dead to ask.  Is that how Rowling imagined the future? I know it’s not, but I do not care.  The books I read ARE NOT the books she wrote.  And therefore, by trying to control how I relate to those books, she is violating the contract between writer and reader.*

I respect that contract too much to ever tell you something about a character’s future or past outside the manuscript definitively.  If it’s relevant, it’s in the manuscript.  If it’s not: decide for yourself.  If you disagree with my interpretations of my own characters: write a new ending!  Those characters are not the characters I wrote – they are the characters you read.  And I want you to be happy with their endings.

I want to uphold my side of the contract by declaring it is NONE OF MY BUSINESS how you think the characters’ lives turn out.  Unless, that is, you wish to tell me.  Then, please, share.  I can’t wait to hear what you think about their respective futures.  Oh, and I promise I’ll be speculating right there with you, trading theories back and forth.  Because the other part of that important contract is this: in return for the favor of bringing my work to life in a way I never could, I engage with you.  Outside of writing more manuscripts, you are my highest concern because you gave me a gift I could not have purchased/achieved/made on my own. The head-canon of the fandom IS what made/will make the book, so it is something I not only respect and encourage, it is something I love and protect.

Right now, my fandom is very small.  It’s a group of friends who are wonderful, amazing second and third readers (not to mention the best cheerleaders I could ask for).  When it gets bigger, though, this contract will still be in effect.  So, to my prospective readers who will have Stars in Their Houses, or other Strains from the Stories, in their hands one day: I have no idea what happens after my books end, and really only a vague idea of what happened before they began. I can’t wait until you figure it out, because I’m just as curious as you are. I want to hear your theories.

I know this was all very dense and a bit strange.  I know that my academic-esque look at the contract between author and reader flies in the face of creative ownership/intellectual property.  But it’s important to me that you, as my existing and potential readers, know that I believe – in a very academic, fundamental sense – that you are as important to the life of my creations as I, the creator, am. You always will be.  This is who I am as an author.

Best of luck to all you dear people (and in the hopes that, one day soon, we’ll be swapping theories),

RJ

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Okay, this went on way longer than intended.  But I’m happy with it.

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*Let it be known that I respect the hell out of Rowling as a person.  Her efforts on behalf of under-represented groups are nothing short of astounding.  Her giving attitude when it comes to money is admirable.  I like Rowling, the Person.  I do NOT like Rowling, the Artist.

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By the way, the faerie tale re-writes got put on hold because of a wedding and summer season of rodeo.  I really thought I could get them done around the wedding activities and before the summer season.  Thankfully, winter season has arrived.  Less thankfully, I’m moving at the end of this month so PACKING AND CLEANING FRENZIES FOR EVERYONE.  After THAT, though, I should be able to do my two months things as, again, I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo because that would actually hurt the progress of Stars in Their Houses, while this project will help.  Thank you for your patience and I hope that the me behind this curtain is an author you can like and/or respect. This was actually very scary for me because I really care about you as readers and revealing so much of my process and how I see my art’s relationship with you feels very . . . naked. Take care! ~RJ



et cetera