Why I Gave You that Blank Stare, and Why You Gave Me One, Too

When you publish a book, and people read it, and they want to say nice things to you about it (or maybe they’re avoiding saying mean things about it), they often tell you that some part of your work reminds them of some other book they’ve read.

These encounters can be some of the most satisfying kind a writer can have with a reader–especially when you can bond over a mutually beloved book, thereby not having to talk about your own work anymore.

R: Writer, I loved that nod to Lolita at the end, when your guy ends up going the wrong way down the highway.
W: I put that there especially for you! [Unsolicited bear hug.]

But more often than not, shit comes out of left field.

R: Your narrator really reminded me of the guy from Travels with My Aunt.
W: [Blank stare.]
R: The Graham Greene novel.
W: Ah, um, I’ve read The Power and the Glory.
R: [Blank stare.]
W: I’ll have to check it out.

Later, the writer checks it out, can’t figure out what the fark the reader was talking about. Which is just a reminder that readers have intensely intimate experiences with books that authors have nothing to do with. We provide a diving board and a pool. What they do in the air is up to them, and sometimes baffling to us.

Finally, there comes what I like to call the Lando, when a reader makes a strong connection between the author’s work and some other work, works, or genre that the author has not read.

R: Writer, I love the James L Cain set-up!
W: [Blank stare.]

I call it the Lando because when it happens to me, I feel like people are wanting to talk to me about Lando Calrissian and the only movie I’ve ever seen is Spaceballs.

Second time.

R: What made you decide to write a neo-noir?
W: [Blank stare.]

Third time.

R: There’s that scene in Chandler’s…
W: Um, I’ve never read any Chandler, or Cain, or any noir or crime books, really.
R: [Blank stare.]

Which is what happens when your influences were influenced by that stuff, and you’re living unknowingly under second-hand influence. Or third-hand. Which is not a problem, but rather a testament to the richness of our culture. Which doesn’t mean you’re not going to feel awkward as hell.

SO, if you see me in person, like at a reading for my next novel in 2112, please, please talk to me about books I haven’t read. The blank stare is inevitable, so let’s call it a tribute–a moment of silence in honor of the gap between what I’ve created on the page and what you’ve created in your mind.

Then let’s toast to that necessary gap without which we would have no literature.

3 thoughts on “Why I Gave You that Blank Stare, and Why You Gave Me One, Too

  1. Thanks, dude. But I said 2112. Which is a Rush album that takes place 100 years after the Mayan apocalypse. Seriously, is 100 years too much to ask to pen a follow-up?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *