I remember sitting in a bar in New York city, maybe three years ago, talking with my friend about writing. Actually, I don’t know if this conversation took place in the bar in new York city, but we did meet there, and we have had a conversation about writing, but as far as set up goes, we’ll have this conversation in a bar in New York city. It was an English pub. The type you see all over New York and every major city. Some people don’t know the difference between an Irish pub or an English pub, (flags are a good indicator) but the wood on the bar is different, I swear. I think English pubs’ use a darker wood or wood finish than Irish pubs, but this is not about the difference between an English or Irish pub, it is about having a conversation about writing, in New York, and having this conversation over a pint of beer (something Belgium).
My friend is a good writer, an intellectual writer, she went to Grad school. There is no tone of cynicism in the above sentence. She worked hard, and has always been an intelligent critical thinker, and she worked hard to get into and out of Grad school. It was talking about Grad school that the writing topic came up. I was in New York to see another friend’s art opening. She had just Graduated from Pratt’s MFA program in painting. I was also there to check out some grad schools for myself. I went to Columbia and sat on the green lawn of the white college with its false Corinthian columns and early American colonial moldings (I’m talking architecture not metaphors). I knew that Kerouac and Ginsberg*! had dropped out of this very prestigious school (well Ginsberg graduated, but not without a suspension first). For me, the school symbolized everything not “meant” for me. Ivy league, rich, and prestigious. I’d never get in, and if I did I’d never be able to pay for it, and it wasn’t about the program as much as it was the name. Still the school was my wish school, along with Brown, another not “meant for” me school. I also visted to the New School and spoke with an entrance advisor and she gave me a tour. It was spread out among Greenwich in lower Manhattan and felt so, city. Although, it has its own set of prestige it wasn’t Ivy league which felt more accessible. Both are great schools, but I didn’t apply to either. I didn’t apply to anything. I have a lot of hang-ups when it comes to education, and my ability to get into a program, and then my ability to pay for that program, plus, I am an excellent self saboteur all I need is a few moments in my head and voila! Still, at the time I was playing that I was actually going to apply and I wanted to talk to my friend about her experiences as an MFA writing student.
Back to the English pub in New York. My friend went to New School and she had mentioned that while there she really felt that she was finding her voice. Voice. Voice and audience, most of the time that is what it is all about isn’t it? What are you saying, how, and who are you talking to? I think in many instances this is not too difficult when you are dead certain who your audience is, and you are writing, say, an essay or an argumentative paper, or maybe you are a genre writer, and you are writing a romance, thriller, mystery or so on, and you have a formula that you follow, and a voice that makes your formula unique from other formulas. But what if you don’t know? Or worse yet, what if you don’t want to have to even abide to an audience or have a set voice? Are you screwed?
I’m reading Let the Right One In, (the English translation), and I have been noticing the simplicity of it. Small short simple sentences, short chapters and short descriptions. I’m reading through it fairly quickly, and I am a slow reader. It is a genre story a vampire story which is a popular genre, but it has its own unique voice, and is creepy more than scary -so far-. I am also reading The Grapes of Wrath. The sentences are long and descriptive. The chapters are long and it is taking me forever to get through, and not because it isn’t interesting in fact, it is riveting and beautiful. But it takes longer, Steinbeck is in no hurry (and why should he have been, reading was what people once did for entertainment). It has taken 160 pages before the Joads have even left for California and that is what the whole thing is about; the dream of California. It has taken 103 pages in Let the Right One In, and there has already been two murders, some terrible information about child prostitutes, and horrible school bullies. Don’t for a second think I am comparing the two, there is no comparing, but there is a definite difference in style and who the writers are talking to. So, as a writer am I supposed to pick between these audiences? “Obviously”, in this fast paced marketing world no one wants to take the time to read The Grapes of Wrath, but I don’t completely believe that because I am taking the time to read The Grapes of Wrath, and I am reading Let the Right One In, who so far in the vampire genre tears the throat out of Twilight, but John Ajvide Lindqvist (it may or may not be translated) isn’t Stephenie Meyer and their audiences are not the same.
All this rambling is coming to one thought, why can’t I write to both? I am obviously reading both. I read Jane Eyre, and I loved it, but, I also loved Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, plus I like to read the Walking Dead graphic novels. Why do I have to pick this magic solo audience? So I can make money? This shit just tears me up. I know when I meet with my “teacher/mentor” in September I am going to have to say who my audience is and possibly talk about voice. I hate it. I just want to write short and long descriptive sentences that tell a story that may or may not appeal to people, oh and yes I’d like to make money so that I can write another story with long and short descriptive sentences that may appeal to old and young audiences alike or may not be liked at all.
What did I learn from my writing conversation in New York? That my friend is awesome and knows her voice and I assume she has a good concept of audience. I also learned that I have far to much of a hang up about it. Sure I know I can never market my writing because I can’t tell someone what the hook is. I figure that if you pick up a book and you are not interested in the first few pages you may not like it, but if you find yourself still reading then maybe you like it. I have to stop worrying so much about the market and the audience because when I am worried about the market and the audience and who is even going to bother reading the shit I write, something happens, and what happens is I don’t write. So who cares about the audience when there isn’t even a page to read.
I didn’t come to this conclusion while I was in the bar in New York, three years ago, I came to it right now, because I was thinking, about the incredible structural differences between the two books I am reading and the fact that I, a non intellectual, non ivy league, poor woman from the foothills, is reading both books and enjoying them both. Perhaps just perhaps, our commercial marketing world does not give the audience much credit for having a wide range of interests, but that is not their job. Anyway, and but, for the sake of POSTERITY, and bringing this post full circle let’s say I did have this conclusion in the English pub in New York, or better yet how about I had it after I said good-bye to my friend, who is now off writing in another country, as I stood on the platform in the subway station, between wondering which train to take that would get me back to Brooklyn. Because when I put it in that setting it seems so much more profound.
*! Hello and wow, did you go to the link for Ginsberg? James Franco is playing Allen Ginsberg in a movie called Howl. Crazy.
**The reading for the Antheneum went well. I had the opportunity to hear my fellow students read from their work, and a lady gave me a hug for my story. If I ever do publish my work I think my audience may be small but devoted and I think that is enough.