Death by Cliché. Death by Cliché is a novel that I have written. Death by Cliché is a novel written by me. Death by Cliché comes out next year from Curiosity Quills.

Okay. So now I don’t have to worry about making sure I mention the name of the novel I’m talking about in this post.

I’d started edits. I’d realized that there were some holes in the explanations that you can’t see if you’ve ever played a role-playing game. I’d decided to throw out the old audio book. I was about halfway done.

In many ways throwing out the audiobook was a release. A revelation, even. You see, when you read a book that you wrote 7 years previously, you’re reaction will probably land somewhere between, “Hmm. I was in a different place when I wrote this,” and “Ah!!! Kill it! Kill it with fire!”.

So now I no longer had to worry about whether or not the Whisper Sync people would start building car bombs with my name on them. I already have places where the text of the book will likely differ from the text of the audiobook, because the joke “…” only works if you can see the ellipses or you can see my face when I deliver it. In an audiobook, it just sounds like an editing mistake. The same with writing something in a really small font. I actually don’t know how that works, but I’m told the whisper sync people want it to be exact, so I suspect either some jokes are going to fall flat or I’m going to earn a fair bit of Amazon agro.

So. I’m a different person now, but more importantly. Damico came off, when read in 2015, as a little more of a “bro” than I mean him to be. I mean, he’s supposed to be a bit of an ass, but the tuning wasn’t quite right. It’s all about the jokes coming out of his mouth. As hypothetical example, if Damico had made a joke about gay marriage in the 2007 version, it would probably have a very different structure than one that was written after legal developments this year. (He didn’t, but that’s the easiest way to illustrate the issue). The same would be true for a joke that referenced women gamers, post gamergate. He comes from a different world with different issues than the Damico as originally written. The bad guy’s jokes? They didn’t change since the world he came from didn’t change. Damico’s have to represent who he is as a person, and the things that are funny in one year are just a little off in another. If you pick up a book, you can see what year it was published. You have no idea what year it was written.

I don’t mean to say that the edgy humor is out. It’s still in. The somewhat controversial scene late in the book is essentially the same (just better written now). There was a joke about sticking a stake through the heart of Bill Cosby that has a very different connotation now than it did then, but my editor seemed to like it and just thought I’d written it to be topical, so I left it as is. So I wasn’t trying to make the book less edgy, I just made sure Damico’s level of asininity was properly tuned for a contemporary reader.

It’s the reason I love writer’s groups. They tell you what your words mean. You know what you intended, but the writer has only secondary control over the meaning of his own work. The meaning is extracted by the reader, through the reader’s lens of experience. For instance, when Martin Freeman played Bilbo Baggins, he said in one interview that he played it as if using the ring was painful or at least unpleasant. Now, I think we can all agree that this interpretation of the character is so wrong that we should invent a special squad of Thought Police just to follow around Martin whenever he gets to close to cherished canon. Because that is just unspeakable.

However, his performance reads perfectly for any right-thinking human being. It looks like Bilbo is sensing the growing hold the ring has over him and like a nascent alcoholic has started to sense, on some level, that something isn’t right. That is the meaning his performance conveys to any people who aren’t clinically insane. We are lucky in that Martin has no final control over the meaning he imparts. He has his intention, but once it’s out in the world, it isn’t his anymore. (Also, I suspect Peter Jackson didn’t care what Martin thought on the inside, he only cared about the performance on screen.)

I love you Martin.

Same is true for Tolkien. Or C.S. Lewis. Or Vonnegut. Ever see Summer School? In it, Rodney Dangerfield hires Kurt Vonnegut to write his English paper about Kurt Vonnegut. His teacher, in a later scene, yells, “I don’t know who wrote this paper, but he knows nothing about Vonnegut!” I don’t know what the writer intended, and the meaning that most audience members got from that joke was that English class is silly and literature professors are talking out of their asses, but I’ve always taken a different meaning.

An author is often the worst judge of the meanings and themes of his own work.

We’ll talk a good storm, but we’re talking out of our asses. Sideways. With a lisp. We can only say what we intended to convey. If you’ve ever emotionally wounded a loved one with a casual joke, you know what I mean.

If you want an interesting physiological experiment, write about ten books. Show them to a group of people who are willing to talk straight to you. Ask them what your themes are. It’s from my writers’ group that I figured out I feel guilt far more deeply than anyone I know. From them I learned that my idea of happiness is radically different from theirs. We also learned that one of our members doesn’t understand insecurity the way the rest of us do.

It’s from my writers’ group that I’ve learned how I view death and grief. It’s from my writers’ groups that I’ve learned that I have something to work through where the subject of sexual assault is concerned. It’s from my writers’ group that I’ve learned countless things about who I am as a person. Once, during a critique, a new member once commented that one of my characters had hit rock bottom. A more senior member of the group laughed. “This is a Bob Defendi book,” he said. “You haven’t seen rock bottom yet.”

Well, the topic on this post has drifted. What was I supposed to be talking about?

Right! My edits. I finished my edits. I turned them in. Took a little more than two weeks.

[originally posted at:]

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