statements of purpose

The following ideas and arguments are in no particular order, or if there is an order then it’s just an accident, but right now they seem like the best way I have of describing my writing’s purposes, focuses, and process. I leave them here for anyone wondering why, or how, I do what I do.

Writing is obviously a highly personal act for many people, and they write out of enjoyment. I don’t differ from that tendency; if I’ve written something, I wrote it to satisfy my own emotional or intellectual need. However, I would be dishonest if I said, “I don’t care what other people think.” Some writers may be perfectly happy keeping the literary act one-sided, churning out novel after novel that they then lock away in their basement; I commend any refusal to make public what someone would prefer to keep private, but I’m not that kind of person. Much of the satisfaction I get out of writing comes from the moment when I can say, “Look! I made this thing, now let’s share it together.” Hopefully, I’m sharing something that other people want to experience.

I do often write about imaginary places, people, and events to a degree of fictitiousness that exceeds simply “this is the real world, with fake things happening in it.” I’m sure I reference certain things that not everyone knows about. There are some things I won’t write because I think they’re boring or disgusting or pointless, and yet those things are someone else’s favorite. There are other things I write in abundance that people might find controversial or horrific or needlessly iconoclastic, and I will admit taking some pleasure in never saying what I’m supposed to say—although I also have no desire to shock or offend or side with reactionaries. But for one thing, I write sex. I write queer sex. I write bizarre violence, and violence grounded in terrifyingly common real world situations. I tend toward stylistic maneuvers like metafiction, non-linear storytelling, and stream of consciousness prose, all of which feels rather “literary,” which is a foolish word because of how aside from my first novel I really see myself as writing sci fi, fantasy, horror, erotica, or historical material.

I would like my work to lend a queer, trans, neurodivergent perspective to the cultural landscape, but I’m not interested in being pigeonholed—nor can my singular voice serve to represent millions, many of whom are silenced in ways that I’m not.

As a reader, I’m a masochist, so as a writer, I’m a sadist. I love when a book, movie, or other narrative devastates me completely. I want to wreck people who enjoy being wrecked. That said, I also like to balance pain with joy. Some things I write are meant to speak to the bleak reality to which we all belong. Other things I write are meant to speak to ways we can transform and transcend our current circumstances. So I must warn that although my protagonists usually have a reasonable moral compass, they don’t always win. In fact sometimes they will distinctly lose. And it will be awful and traumatic and familiar. But I’m not a nihilist. I believe in portraying the improbable realistically, and also in taking the real to improbable (but still possible) extremes.

Sometimes, to be a contemporary storyteller for a remotely “cultured” audience, it seems like you have to include at least one bad sex scene. I don’t just mean a sex scene that fails to come across as sexy. Of course, if you’re going to write supposedly arousing sex, you should try to make it arousing; but I also mean how whether on the page or on the screen, so many sex acts feel sad and unpleasant, and like they ought to be. I’ve done my own share of creative catharsis on that front, due to personal experiences, but I’m tired of narrative worlds where not only is queer sex doomed or invisible, but straight sex represents some eternal intimate tragedy.

No amount of structural ingenuity can substitute for thematic soundness and engaging characters. A story that just exists to alienate is not interesting. A story that purely tries to subvert expectations will wind up forgetting what a human being needs and values. And it’s better to have a story with no “message” than a story where the message comes out the opposite from what’s intended.

My poetic voice is in flux. I used to write lots of poems, but now they are very special incidents.

I love writing collaboratively. Some of my very favorite writing is produced through exercises with other people. These began as text-based roleplaying games, but while I still love a good old-fashioned game full of die rolls and fantasy antics, over time I’ve come to appreciate the deeply rewarding process of telling a full-length story in tandem with one or more friends. There are extra challenges to consider when you put more than one brain behind a writing project: what do you want to get out of this story, compared to your co-writers? do you want to bother cultivating a uniform narrative voice at any point in the process? is anyone going to read this besides you? who writes what parts, and how are those parts kept organized? how often do you write? should you be in the same room together? But I love all of these challenges, and collaboration appeals very much to my sense of writing to share a story. What better way to share a story than to have other people write it with you, assuming you at least have roughly the same inclinations and preferences for how it should turn out? Therefore, I am selectively open for contact over writing collaborations of various kinds—publication-worthy or not—and I often worldbuild for my own mono-authored work with the idea that the world can be used by other people. I am far more protective of my characters and precise storylines than I am of my general settings.

The value I place in language is strange. I despise grammarians and other people who believe they can somehow safeguard the English language (against what?) in some pure form. I also feel regularly conscious that I write primarily in the language that was and remains spoken in some of the most imperialist, internationally oppressive countries—in the main language that has been forced upon other cultures to the detriment of their native speech. In fact, I wish fervently that the Welsh part of my family had not been trapped in anglophony as many of our people have been for centuries. I would love to have some right to claiming an identity as a Welsh writer above all. Nonetheless, I am an anglophone and a US citizen, with many standard privileges attached. As of 2020 I’ve received a birthright UK passport, too, which I’m happy about but also perturbed that it was so easy for me to get without having lived in the UK at any point. And yet—and yet! I can’t deny that English is a fabulously rich language, because which ones aren’t? As a linguist, I love the myriad registers that have developed in English writing due to its patchwork history. I love playing with that stuff. And I also love so many other languages, and I’d like to get better than I currently am at writing in them, or at directly translating into them.

Making all of your writing a political allegory is dull. Making all of your writing about a singular political issue is dull. Having good politics will not make your writing readable. Saying your writing has no politics is wrong. Saying your writing has no political obligations is wrong. Having reprehensible politics will make me dislike you.

These days, I read more nonfiction than fiction. Others may seek to model their creative style on what a favorite fiction author does well, and to some extent I take part in this. But I benefit more from poring through political essays, media criticism, historical documentation, and encyclopedic data dumps, so that when I’m writing I feel surrounded by the full cultural context for what it is that I’m trying to create.

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