Are mystery writers ever accused of secretly being criminals? Do people ask science fiction writers if they're robots? Does it seem likely to some readers that fantasy writers are actually, I don't know, dwarves?
It seems too easy to call horror writers "sickos" or "sociopaths" or "vultures feasting on the pain of society."
Have you ever been psychoanalyzed based on what you've written? Almost all of us have, especially in our genre of the weird. Thanks to generations of terrible high school English teachers, most casual readers believe that every work of art is a biographical window into its creator's soul. Mark Twain wrote Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to subconsciously warn himself against the dangers of technology while he made some risky investments, didn't he? The Great Gatsby is all about F. Scott Fitzgerald's obsession with his wife Zelda's wealth and social class, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. But some readers just can't accept that some art is just a bunch of crazy shit somebody made up for fun.
I believe that James Joyce's Ulysses was written solely to confound future generations of literary theorists and critics. There's no way that Joyce didn't lean back from his pad or typewriter some evenings, fold his arms behind his head in satisfaction, and mutter, "Make sense o' that, ye bastards!" Bless him for doing so, too, by the way; he provides cover for the rest of us.
One of the unfortunate truths you'll have to face as a writer (or, indeed, a creator of anything, even a life) is that you are at the mercy of the people who interpret you.
Like John Shade in Nabokov's Pale Fire or Ralph Trilipush in Phillips's The Egyptologist, we are likely to be pursued by boneheads whose interpretations of our lives and work will be more about them than us. No matter how clearly, vociferously, or persistently we write, someone will always believe we're hiding something about ourselves.
That can be a good thing; it keeps people interested in our work long after we're dead (even if they're wrong).
That can also be a bad thing; your friends and family could well have worries about you in the meantime. Write about a shooting and suddenly you're Dylan Klebold. "Wait. This girl Kendall gets killed on the first page. MY name is Kendall," someone will say. "Ha! Great way to stick it to ol' Coach Simmons with that scene. Better hope the cops never see that, just in case," another will crow. "I never knew you felt that way about mothers," your mom will sniffle.
All you can do is shrug and say you just made it up.
One of my favorite stories includes a character with the same name as one of my ex-wife's sisters. Am I reaching out? No, she just had the perfect prissy name for a kid who takes herself seriously. Another of my stories, "In Search Of," explains a whole string of mysteries, some of them with elements stolen straight from the lives of people I know. Am I sending a message? No, they just had interesting details to toss in.
All I know as a writer is that the stories are already an attempt to plumb my subconscious. Anything else I do to interpret them poisons the work with a plodding intentionality. I'm already saying what I mean as best I can; I'll leave it to future critics to figure out.
In the meantime, though, what can writers do? I've thought this over a long time, and the only solution I've come up with comes straight from our friend James Joyce:
Drink a lot so you don't notice.
Well, that goes without saying. The real solution from our friend Jim?
Write with such free-flowing abandon and flamboyant weirdness that nobody has any hope of figuring you out.
Drape your clocks from trees and giggle when they wonder if that means you're always late. Have goblins burst from wombs with axes and leave them to worry about your wife's pregnancy. Write a series of mystery novels with a gay Catholic priest as the detective, named after your father.
You can't afford timidity. You can't afford to second-guess. You can't worry about how other people will misinterpret you because, frankly, they certainly will...probably in ways you'd never imagine.
You might as well confound them in ways they'd never imagine.
(And by the way: if you're looking for two excellent horror novels, you could do worse than to read Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov and The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. Maybe I'm terrified of weird things, but those books scare the hell out of me: what price will we have to pay when others are wrong about us? Or when we're wrong about ourselves? Reality is what we decide it is, good or bad. Both books will wiggle your foundations like Jell-O.)
You can attempt to interpret Will via his website at www.will-ludwigsen.com. Good luck with that.
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