Wednesday, May 2, 2018


     My praise of John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series triggered an interesting exchange with a Gentle Reader:

     GR: You enjoyed that? [Imagine a tone of distasteful stupefaction]
     FWP: Very much. Why?
     GR: It’s nothing at all like what you write.
     FWP: That’s true, but what of it?
     GR: I just can’t see anything in it that’
     FWP: You know, I can’t name even one book by someone else that’s at all close to the sort of dreck I turn out. Contemporary fantasies about an alternate Creation story? A weird Shire-like county in the middle of New York that breeds geniuses and millennial heroes? An anarchist extraterrestrial colony that runs afoul of a planetary Overmind? Christian-flavored erotica about divinely appointed priestesses of fleshly desire? Where have you ever seen anything like that, except from me?
     GR: That’s not the point. Ringo’s stuff just seems so far from your sensibility.
     FWP: But Tom Kratman’s novels aren’t? I like those a lot too, remember?
     GR: It’s just not how I think of you.
     FWP: Would it reassure you to hear me rant about novels I dislike?
     GR: Not really.

     I like competently done military fiction, whether situated in “our” world or in some science-fictional setting. But then, I like a lot of other kinds of fiction, too. I have wide tastes in all the arts, which has caused people to wonder about me for a long time: “How can someone who enjoys X like Y as well?”

     I think it stems from readers’ preconceptions.

     I write so much, and always from a libertarian-conservative Catholic Christian perspective, that I must seem pretty strongly “characterized.” But that’s an effect that arises from knowing me through only one facet: what I write. I wouldn’t doubt that other writers are perceived just as narrowly, on the grounds of what they write.

     As I’ve met a few of them, including some of the more popular ones, I can assure you all that we’re a goodly distance from our characters. We haven’t shared their adventures, either. And without naming names, I shall tell you about those who make really vivid contrasts with their fictions.

     There was one who wrote marvelous adventure fiction. “Man’s man” stuff. Before we met I envisioned him to be a real Indiana Jones type: broad shoulders, chiseled features, and a rock-hard physique. He turned out to be quite ordinary in appearance. His speech was a dual surprise: very diffident and guarded, and in a high tenor at that.

     There was another whose specialty was humor, in several genres. I assumed he had to be a convivial, life of the party sort. I could hardly imagine him without a smile. Yet he never cracked a smile in all the hours I spent in his company. When I learned about his marital history, it made a lot of sense, but only then.

     There was a third whose stories were the oddest things I’d ever encountered. His breadth of imagination made me wonder if I had any business writing at all. I hardly expected him to be the reserved, totally buttoned-down individual he proved to be. (He attended a science fiction convention in a suit and tie, and carried a briefcase wherever he went.)

     Those three have all passed away, so I’m reasonably confident they won’t mind my employing them here as examples.

     Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec cautioned us against imagining an artist from nothing but an acquaintance with his work: “The work is always so much more than the man.” That’s true some of the time, at least, but the reverse is frequently true as well. Many an artist is unwilling to present anything but his art to public scrutiny. The phenomenon of the celebrity-artist, whose movements the cameras follow and whose pronouncements on anything and everything are reported by the media, is a relatively recent development. Then again, so is the phenomenon of celebrity itself.

     If you attend fans’ conventions or writers’ conferences, you’re likely to experience the same sort of contrast between “people you know” and their real-life instantiations, who stubbornly diverge from your imaginings. It’s to be expected. We’re just not what you think. That’s a large part of why I avoid such gatherings as a matter of policy; I’d rather not be compared to the larger-than-life figures that fill the pages of my books. I would be found wanting, and badly wanting at that.

     I hope I haven’t disappointed anyone too badly.

1 comment:

furball said...

I actually now *avoid* trying to see any writers, actors or other artists I like "off-stage." I don't want my built-up fantasies spoiled by real life.

By the way, I finished "Under a Darkling Sky" in the wee hours of this morning. On my way out the door for "Islands of Rage and Hope" from another library in the county. Thanks for the recommendation. (And if there's an American male out there who *wouldn't* be proud and awed to have Sophia and Faith as daughters, I don't think I want to meet him.)

Tim Turner