Friday, March 7, 2014

Inside the book, outside the book

I've been meaning to post a link to this for a while. At Finding Wonderland, Aquafortis wrote about JK Rowling's public discussion of her books. Some notable quotes: "Sometimes I don't need to know every detail of the backstory. Sometimes it's what isn't explicitly stated that creates its own magic in a story ... . And I can't help but feel like, beyond a certain point, over-explanation dissipates the power of that magic. Sort of like, when you try too hard to explain a joke, it isn't funny anymore ..."

Authors are encouraged nowadays to talk about their books, do interviews, even provide little "extras" (lost chapters, related short stories, etc.). And an author of Rowling's stature is going to have many, many people interested in the world she created. I think that such discussions are like book-club discussions. They add to the pleasure of reading; they enable us to see where else the ideas on the page can take us. But ultimately, we do have to come back to what is on the page. Outside discussions are tangents that have come from that universal starting point; they're not part of the source material. Even if those outside discussions include the author.

Do I think the author should have more weight in those outside discussions? Yes ... and no. I have sat in classrooms and book clubs and heard some readers interpret scenes in my books in ways I never intended. I don't call them "wrong." If they're interested, I tell them what I actually intended, and what the scene means to me, but I have to accept that texts are open to interpretation. Novels deal in symbolism, after all, and they don't spell out "the moral of the story" at the end.

Some authors like to second-guess themselves, or they will discuss how they might have written a book differently, if they'd written it later in life. And we all have pieces of books that lie on the cutting-room floor: the alternate ending, the deleted chapters, the character we took out. But readers don't have access to all of those thoughts, those lost pieces. They only have access to the books we publish. And at a certain point, I like to turn readers' questions back onto them and ask, "Well, where do you think that character goes after the end of the book?" or, "Why do you think he acted that way in that scene?"

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