manifesto in progress

The following ideas & 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,” or, “I don’t write for an audience.” The fully realized literary act, if you will, is an engagement between the writer(s) and the reader(s), so some writers may be perfectly happy keeping the act one-sided— i.e. churning out novel after novel that they then lock away in their basement— and 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 wrote this thing, now let’s share it together.” Hopefully, I’m sharing something that other people want to experience.

My audience— I choose not to define it too narrowly, yet I’m sure it exists according to some vague parameters. I like to think my style, fictional or otherwise, could appeal to anyone. But 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. I can’t be published by every company, in every quarterly. 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, I guess, people might find controversial or horrific or needlessly iconoclastic, and I will admit that I take some pleasure in never saying what I’m “supposed” to say, although I also have no desire to shock or offend or prove myself “politically incorrect.” I write sex. I write really queer sex. I write bizarre violence, and violence grounded in terrifyingly common real world situations. So, I suspect most of the people who’d like my writing may also have a preference for spec fic, sci fi, fantasy, et al., or for erotica, or for radical politics, or gritty drama. But you might just like “literary fiction,” so called.

I don’t hold to an ideal of “write what you know,” or conversely of “write outside your comfort zone.” It’s a false dichotomy. If I only wrote what I knew, I would have to write about life as a white, trans, queer, working class bookworm in the US. Over and over and over. I can’t abide when people just write about some version of themselves forever. It’s narcissistic at best. But if I constantly wrote outside my comfort zone, I’d be that scuzz trying to fetishistically tell stories about lives he can never fully understand, as if he understood them perfectly. I loathe when people do that, too. What I write… is whatever I feel driven to write. If I feel driven to write about something I don’t understand firsthand, I do my research, and if I fail at that, I apologize and I try to do better later. I use personal experiences as a touchstone for myself to remember how certain basic events or feelings can have universal applicability. And I can’t possibly say it enough: I am never the authority on anyone or anything. Never, ever, ever. Sometimes my characters might stand as symbols for particular problems in the world, but if I ever write something that comes across, for instance, as me saying “this is the definitive queer experience,” please backhand me. I’m not even kidding. And I similarly can’t say enough: Please read other people besides me. No voice has to drown out another’s just by being raised, and I have to pay my bills just like anyone else, but if you give me a platform and deny it to equally worthy voices, that’s a problem we all need to fix.

I think classifying everything into genres and tropes gets ridiculous after a while. I understand making loose categories so that publishers and booksellers can keep their inventory organized, help people find specific sorts of things they’d like to read about, etc., but seriously, there are people who make up words like “clockpunk,” to differentiate a fantasy/historical clockwork-tech aesthetic from steampunk? Actually, clockpunk is a cute word, but sometimes writers get so hooked on doing things in a highly specified type of setting, or on twisting a particular trope, that you get weird trends where suddenly everyone is publishing permutations of a theme that’s so niche it kind of destroys the point of its first writers’ vision, which was to be unique. Throw too many labels onto something, and no matter how distinctive it fundamentally is, you’ve covered it up with a distillation of itself.

As a reader, I’m a masochist, so as a writer, I’m a sadist. I love when a book— or a movie, or any other narrative— devastates me completely. I want to wreck people who enjoy being wrecked. That said, I also like to balance bad with good. Some things I write are meant to speak to the shitty reality that we all belong to. Other things I write are meant to speak to ways we can transform and transcend our current circumstances. So I must warn that my protagonists aren’t always good people, and when they are, they don’t always win. In fact sometimes they will distinctly lose. And it will be awful and traumatic and familiar. But sometimes I let the goodies win. 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 novelist it seems like you have to include at least one requisite sex scene. Bonus points if it’s not really all that sexy but the narrative suggests that now is still the part where you hold the book with one hand. This bothers me because writing sex is important in representing the full array of human experiences, but it doesn’t have to be fun sex, it doesn’t have to be arousing, it doesn’t have to conform to certain standards, it doesn’t have to break certain standards, or what have you. On the flip side, too, if you’re going to write supposedly arousing sex, you should make it… you know… arousing.

Sometimes to be a contemporary novelist, at least in the so-called literary genre, it seems like you’re only truly avant garde if you eschew the novel’s traditional narrative forms, use your own special style of punctuation, or write a story about absolutely nothing of significance, just literally the smashing of random impressions onto a keyboard. I genuinely enjoy a lot of structure-breaking narratives, even sometimes when they get gimmicky. Give me something non-linear! Give me a story where I don’t know any characters’ names! Give me a story whose plot you invented by rolling dice! I really might like it. And yet… can’t content be just as avant garde? Sometimes moreso. If I have to read another non-issue melodrama of bougie white straight people having bougie white straight problems (inevitably in Manhattan?), the writer can tell it any way they want and I’ll still fling it across the room. Similarly, I’ve taken a hiatus from writing poetry until I figure out what I really want it to cover; outside of that, I’m happy writing any poem type, from free verse to epic-length trochaic tetrameter.

I don’t think any one genre is better than others, or that any one genre is the most flawed. I write in the approximate genres you might throw me into mostly due to the coincidence of my general interests and upbringing.

I support other people creating derivative works from well-known fiction— what some would call fanfiction— if it’s an honest effort to engage with the original material and offer a demonstration of how to improve it, or create an homage to something you love. I do simultaneously find it unimaginative to build an entire writing life off of such an activity if what you’ve offered to the public is not of equal quality with the original— on some level, that is— no matter how much you changed the details or the execution. And if your activities are truly impeding the creator’s income, and they’re not in a position to just deal with that financial blow, then please, don’t disrespect this person you allegedly support. My stance on my own writing right now is that I am still building my career to a significant degree, so at the moment, if you use my settings or characters or plot details without my permission, I’ll consider it plagiarism. I am happy to give permission for a wide array of things, though, because…

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. 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 much more nonfiction than fiction. Others may seek to model their creative style on what a favorite fiction author does well. 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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