I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about Meets Girl. I’m still unsure how much I want to talk about a lot of things, honestly. I read an article last year-ish, I think in either The Atlantic or Harper’s, in which the author discussed the temptation to write a book on writing. Apparently, books on writing sell tons of copies. It makes sense; I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t think he or she had a book–whether novel or memoir–in them.
I guess, for me, it comes down to a dilemma. I think, for a long time, I thought one should let the work speak for itself, but I wonder if that’s outmoded in a world of social networking, where everyone is not only a writer but a publisher, too.
And, of course, where everyone seems to have a position on how to write. Or how to market. Or how to fill-in-the-blank.
I guess maybe one aims at maintaining a balance. Here’s what I did, and here’s how I did it. Or something like that.
I’ve also always been the sort of writer who believes that the author’s role is finished once a reader opens the book. Up until that moment, the book itself is a vision of the author, but the moment a reader sees that first word, it becomes a mutual vision, and sometimes I wonder, when considering that mutual vision, how much authority an author has in it. When readers pick up, say, symbolism in Meets Girl, who am I to say that there isn’t any?
When writing, does an author really get to say whether a cigar is really just a cigar if readers think there’s more to the cigar than the cigar? Perhaps an author has intention, but if an author doesn’t fulfill that intention, well, the novel mightn’t either, right?
Yeah. You can tell I’m a writer because this is the shit I think about.
Take, for example, the textual asides in Meets Girl. Or a lot of aspects in Meets Girl, for that matter. Some of which I’ve debated talking about. How do I know who’s read it? Who am I to spoil it? I think the real key to new publishing is playing the long game, but does playing the long game extend the statute of limitations on spoilers?
Again. Shit I think about.
But I figured maybe I could break through my own blocks about discussing Meets Girl by addressing something that I wouldn’t really think of as a spoiler, but which has inspired reactions that have surprised me. You see, several people have written to me with the note that using allusions as Meets Girl does makes it appear as though I’m attempting to put myself, as a writer, on the same plane as Hemingway and Melville and Faulkner and Dickens.
Which is bemusing to me because, I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never really gotten much into those authors. The narrator of Meets Girl jokes that the best thing Faulkner ever wrote was his adaptation of Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and in ways I agree with him. Though I rather liked “A Rose for Emily,” too. Especially as taught by John Rechy. Great teacher. Great story, too. Totally creepy.
The truth of the matter is a secret: Meets Girl originally had completely different allusions. In fact, it’s opening used to be:
“Once upon a time, I fell in love with a girl who didn’t love me in return–
and while that may not be, as openings go, altogether novel—
(for who among us, etc.”
The opening in its current form is similar, yes, but it changes that middle bit. That middle bit was actually a direct quotation from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, which may be the finest fairy tale (and tale of Faery) ever written, and is one of my favorite books of all time. It is, note for note, perfect. Gaiman has a spot-on tone. He tends to in many of his books, which is, I think, part of his genius as a storyteller.
I made it an allusion rather than a direct quotation because I knew the permissions required for the latter would likely be difficult (and possibly prohibitively expensive). It’s really even only barely an allusion, for the most part, as it goes.
Now here’s something sad: Meets Girl originally had a completely different set of quotations. Originally, the narrator grew up on Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
The original draft included the opening paragraph of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but I worried very greatly that Scholastic wouldn’t hold with such nonsense, thank you very much.
The original draft included “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” because fuck if that isn’t one of the single greatest lines Stephen King ever wrote.
The original draft included lines from movies and songs.
Problem? Permissions. Moneys.
It’s kind of a sad thing, in fact, I think. I mean, I know, permissions are in place, copyright is in place, so that artists get paid. At least, that’s the usual line. But how much do most writers really get paid by their publishers? I know most authors get approximately ten percent royalty (give or take) from the sale of every book sold with their names on it; I’m sure that contracts also specify rates for instances when they get quoted, but I wonder how much. How much does Springsteen get when a movie uses his song on the soundtrack? How much does King get when a new author uses the words of the master as an epigraph for a novel?
What ended up happening was that, for every quote I’d originally used, I either wrote around the actual content and alluded to the works and authors, or I changed the quotes altogether to come from the public domain.
In the end, it actually worked well, I think, because it gave me further distance from the narrator.
I get why people mistake the narrator as me. Without spoiling anything, even from the beginning, let’s be honest–the guy is unnamed, and a writer living in New York, as I have been. He certainly seems to take writing seriously, too, and I’ve been accused of worse.
Again without spoiling anything, though, I do note that I’ve always wondered just how reliable he actually is.