I’m perfectly capable of speaking for myself.

Kate Elliott on authorial intent.


I’m smart enough not to respond publicly to reviews, of course; that pretty much never ends well. But if you want to know which ones get up my nose the worst, it’s the ones that make unfounded declarations about what was in my head while writing. If you read a particular thing out of the story, fine — far be it from me to say ur doin it wrong. But please don’t claim you know why I did things that way.

Mind you, the line between the two isn’t entirely clear. Sometimes — as Kate’s contrasting examples show — a lot of it comes down to phrasing; if you say “it seems the author felt X,” that creates a different impression than “the author felt X.” This is one case where I think it’s a good idea to use qualifiers for your assertions, even though in other circumstances it’s better to just say things directly. And, of course, if you’ve been reading my blog or an interview with me or whatever, anything I say there is fair game for use later; your review can say “because Marie Brennan is concerned with not taking events out of the hands of the real, historical people who were involved, she does Z” — though even there, it would be better to say you presume there’s a causal relationship, because when you get down to it I may have forgotten my own agenda and done Z simply because it looked nifty, or the rest of my plot required it.

Talk all you like about the product. What you say may sound very odd to me; I may blink in surprise at the cool thing I apparently did without noticing, or wonder exactly what novel you read, but in the end “the book” is the product of a chemical reaction between the words on the page and the contents of the reader’s head, and I only control one half of the ingredients. The contents of my own head, on the other hand, do not belong to the reader, and so I would prefer that reviewers phrase any speculation as speculation. Don’t be the guy who went around telling people what Ursula LeGuin “intended” with the Earthsea books. Don’t presume to speak for the author. If I’m going to bite my tongue and not tell you how to read my work, don’t tell me how I wrote it.

0 Responses to “I’m perfectly capable of speaking for myself.”

  1. Anonymous

    Clearly the author of this post is suffering from severe fear of clowns, the gout, and an ingrown toenail. There’s no other explanation for the gratuitous use of sentence-initial conjunctions and the barbarous contraction ur.


    (Actually, I think you and Kate are exactly right.)

  2. akashiver

    >>; if you say “it seems the author felt X,” that creates a different impression than “the author felt X.”

  3. findabair

    Makes good sense to me, even though I’m not a writer.

    I’m reminded of a lecture I attended with the Irish poet Louis de Paor this summer. He was talking about the problem of how people tend to assume that poetry is autobiographical. He told us he had been to an academic conference where someone gave a paper on his own poetry. The presenter had talked about de Paor’s life and how de Paor’s father died when de Paor was still a kid, which was completely wrong – a seriously weird experience for de Paor, naturally! Apparently, de Paor did write a poem about a young kid whose father dies, which the academic assumed was autobiographical.

    • Marie Brennan

      That’s some pretty bad scholarship, there. Bad enough to talk about the author’s motivations, but to just assume you know their biography? With no evidence outside the artistic text to back it up? Fail.

  4. unforth

    Then there’s the semi-sarcastic, “the author must have (been thinking/meant) X” that I often see in reviews, especially on, say, Amazon.

    If I ever get published and get reviewed? I do not look forward to this part. 🙁

    • Marie Brennan

      On the flip side, there’s the pleasure of “OMG that reader totally got it.” So it does balance out, in general.

      (But no, the sarcasm and dismissive reviews are not much fun.)

  5. Anonymous

    Absolutely. The reader can think what the damn they like about it but bottom line is: they didn’t conceive it, they didn’t create it and they didn’t expend the countless hours it took to write it. Bartheans can go swivel.

    • Marie Brennan

      There’s merit in separating the text from the person who wrote it, since you can’t (and shouldn’t) require the reader to know about the author in order to understand the story — but no, I don’t think dismissing the author as unrelated to the text is the way to go, either.

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