The new thing is from THE MASTER, a novel about Henry James, and it’s just a throw-away clause “. . . the culture of easy duplicity.” I’m not exactly sure what it is about that phrase that beckons to me (maybe just that I like duplicity in its milder forms), but there’s something in it for writers, too. Sometimes my characters seem too easy to suss out. It’s clear from the first pages who they are and any added facets are fed into the story at predictable intervals with predictable results. (A sausage-making metaphor suggests itself at this point, doesn’t it.) Duplicity usually isn’t a good thing, and the usual synonyms (dishonesty or guile, for instance) aren’t compliments. But other synonyms like artifice and dissemble are more beguiling. I wonder what it would do to a character to write out an alternate life for him. And not one that intrudes into the novel but, like an underground river, runs beneath the narrative surface and cools (or heats) the episodes. Hmmm.
The old thing is from, I believe, one of the Marshas, and has has to do with writing something that the author would like to read. Everybody knows you can’t predict the market: if sci-fi is hot, by the time I get my tentacled Nanking Molestas underground on Planet Baloney, that surge is over and Talking Critters are all the rage. Sure, it’s natural to imitate successful things but the point is this: are you having a good time, or do you get up from your desk feeling exhausted and discouraged? I’ve asked students point blank (Really? You, Ron, Mr. Diplomacy?) why they don’t write what they’d love to read and they tell me they’d be embarrassed or someone in their family would get her feelings hurt.
Try embracing Shame and Fear in 2010, inviting them in and see what they have to tell you. I’ve had their hot breath in my shell-like ear, and — believe me — it’s a rush!