Renegade Muse

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Writing is not a service industry

Well, here’s my take on it.

Writing is not a service industry, because writing is an art. When I sit down to write, I am not thinking of my readers. I am thinking of the words, the story, the characters, the way it all goes together, the why and where it goes, this golden ball with the golden string unraveling and tangling and confusing me and frustrating me and delighting me.

Guess what readers. It’s not about you at all. It’s not about me either, except that in some unknown way it’s born of me and nurtured and driven by me. The old cliché about books being your children is true. They are of you, but you do not control them.

It’s about the writing. It’s about the world and story there, and sometimes you want it so badly to be something else and you try and you try and you cannot make it go that way. And you want to beat your head against the wall and scream. And nothing you do will make it what you dream that it can be. As good as you wanted it to be.

Like children, books.

So then it goes out there, whatever you made of it, and it’s a commodity. People say what they want to say, in whatever way they want to say it, because it’s no skin off their back. And they get really really pissed off if they spent their money and they didn’t like what they got. So now it’s corporate America and readers “voting with their wallets” and shut up if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, be a professional, suck-up to readers, always be polite, who-do-you-think-you-are, some kind of diva? Some kind of artiste? Be truthful to the depth of your heart in your work, but in your public persona, lie lie lie because otherwise you’re just another wuss who can’t take it. Learn to sell yourself, get a blog, get a website, that’s the future, son, it’s all out there, Wall Street, big money…hey it’s just a buncha damn words, what’s your problem? We can always find another writer, they’re a dime a dozen.

A book is a magic thing. It has a life of its own. Do you doubt it, in the small hours of the night when you sit up in bed reading and reading, living in a world you never made, unable to bear to leave it until the last page closes and it vanishes into thin air?

Do you think it is any different for me when I write it? It is magic, but so fragile. So hard to find and easy to lose.

Now there’s this internet, another magic thing with a life of its own, a million voices roaring whispering screaming over your shoulder into the quiet place where the stories come from. You can either shut it out entirely or try to open one tiny window and hope you aren’t washed away in the flood. It’s foolish to open the window, frankly. You do that when you’re stuck with no magic at hand, and you’re bored and discouraged and fretful but you have to stay at the computer just-in-case. It’s like having a bottle of liquor in the drawer.

I always loved books by certain authors. I loved the words, the way they were put together…“Language is like shot silk; so much depends on the angle at which it is held.” John Fowles wrote that in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and it awed me when I read it, the simple perfection of that image, the sound of it, and the way it fit into the story that he told. I used to love his books so much that I longed to write to him, like you’d write to a lover, as if I knew him and he must know me, and we could have long conversations and understand one another.

Lately I read a biography of him, and he was a silly mess. He was just a man, and did some things I couldn’t respect, but as an author myself I understand much better now that his books were not him. He lived in two lives, his real one, common and a little shoddy and full of all the aches and missteps and selfishness and worries that we all bear, and in another one, a world that he created with words. They intersected but they are not the same.

One is living, one is like a living dream, both created piece by piece, moment by moment, step by step and keystroke by keystroke, blood sweat and tears and run to the grocery store and by the bank before you walk the dog.

All the storm and fury of the internet and readers and critics and sales figures is nothing. It’s not out there. It’s in here. If I have to protect it from readers, I will protect it, viciously. That may be by thinking you are all a bunch of clueless babbling idiots, no personal offense. No more than you want to hear my personal woes do I want to know what your ten million conflicting opinions are.

I serve a different master. I serve this art, whether you buy it or not. I began to write because I loved to write. That is still the only way.

I as a person deserve no particular respect above the average. But the work that I do, the art itself which has been with us and served us and consoled us and given us wonder and joy and some little modicum of understanding here and there—that art deserves respect.

From me, from readers, from publishers. We should all give it the best that we have.

That’s my take. Your mileage may vary.

SmartBitches-May 17, 2006

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[1] Posted by laura kinsale on 01.24.2010

All opinions are welcome, positive or negative, but civility and polite language are required for comments to remain.  Political or religious references are not allowed, unless directly related to a Laura Kinsale book under discussion. I do answer questions but I seldom give interpretations about my books or characters, because I enjoy hearing what readers see in them.  These comments and discussions replace my old forum at The Terrace. (Note that the spam captcha is an english word interspersed with a number—this may help you tell a letter from a number.  If it’s still too hard to see, reload the page for another one.)

[2] Posted by CM on 01.24.2010

Ms.Kinsdale,
    Well said, and I totally agree with you.  Writing is an art, and a fast dying one as well, for casual correspondence and letters.  I have always been an avid reader, especially of romances, and feel my ability to write good letters and even business memos is because of reading so much.  It helped me to understand the flow of words and being attuned to the grammar.  I can also appreciate the “magic” that can occur when the words just seem to pour out of me.  Writers must have a way with words that conveys the emotions and actions clearly and vividly which I seem to have been able to take and mold into my own “voice”.

Respectfully,
CM

[3] Posted by Barb on 01.26.2010

As much as I am mentally jumping up and down because I just got the kindle version(thank you for that) of Lessons in French and planning cheerfully on no sleep tonite, I never believe a writer or any artist should have her eye on the customer. Art can’t be created from the bottom line but from the artist’s muse, soul or whatever you call it.  Art is there to take us someplace, whether a painting, a photograph, a movie, or book.  When you come back to yourself, after an experience with art, you are changed somehow.  You see differently, you can take another view, or you just can engage your life better for the time out of it. 
I have eagerly waited for the new book; have today’s event noted on my calendar. But you have to write to your satisfaction or it wouldn’t be the book I have been waiting for.  Does that make sense?
So, congrats on your new book, and I am going to go get lost in it!

[4] Posted by laura kinsale on 01.26.2010

Apropos of this topic, I’m listening to an audio book about the science behind motivation.  (DRIVE, by Daniel Pink)  In terms of these studies, what I’m talking about above is called intrinsic motivation. 

These studies indicate strongly that intrinsic motivation is essential for creative work.  That’s fairly self-evident, when you stop and think about it—but the extrinsic motivations (money, reviews, prizes, etc) can have interesting and unexpectedly negative impacts on intrinsic motivation. 

I think, in a way, that my “muse” knows this: hence the desire, if not always successful, to keep a distance between the writing and the “business.”

[5] Posted by Morgan Karpiel on 02.02.2010

I feel like I’ve traveled to so many different worlds through your books and fell in love with so many different people along the way. You have amazed and inspired me and I’ve always been left in awe of your gift. The business may be raw and many of the voices out there thankless and ignorant, but I hope you realize how many of us carry the beauty of your work with us every day.

[6] Posted by laura kinsale on 02.02.2010

Thank you Morgan, for writing that.  It is an amazing thing to know.

[7] Posted by Tricia Lynne on 02.04.2010

Laura,

Once again you cut to the heart of my writing life and my life in general. To me writing is like a living dream..something I have to do but don’t like to do it. Writing is hard, hard work, and if you aren’t published sometimes you wonder why you even bother, and yet it is the dream that you strive for…and because you can’t silence the people in your head. So I try to find a balance between my “real life” and the one that flies from my fingertips.
Thank you for saying it so succinctly. And thank you for writing again. You have been and always will be, my favourite writer.
(Can’t believe Callie and Trev were in a drawer…but I totally understand.)

[8] Posted by Marlana Campbell on 02.05.2010

Writing is not a service industry…

Dear Laura:

My gripe is with the amount of control the publisher appears to exert on or over the writers.

How many times has an author written a book introduced as, say, a trilogy, and the book turns out to be this wildly, unexpected, smashing success, and suddenly the trilogy turns into what ultimately becomes a five, six or seven book series? I understand that, occasionally, the author does not feel that the story can be contained in a trilogy and truly needs to expand. But most of the time, I get a distinct sense in the background of ka-ching by the publisher and what you so loved in the beginning is completely lost by the end.

Or my other favorite: when a single story is split into two books. What’s with that? My reaction is I feel manipulated—ka-ching, again. The publisher thinks our interest is going to ebb if the book is 700 to a 1,000 pages long? Did J K Rowling have to tussle with her publisher over the length of her books or did the publisher have faith that the author just might know what they were doing? Not typically.

I don’t ever expect an author to tailor their writing to suit me. It’s my job to select books I believe I will enjoy. Just peruse the romance bookshelf at just about any bookstore. There are way too many books that are being written to cater to the reader and the results are pretty awful. I want a book that’s well written—that contain those magic sentences or phrases that just capture your imagination or touch your heart just so.

Well, enough ranting.

I’ve ordered your new book, and now it’s time to go to bed.

Take care.

Marlana

[9] Posted by laura kinsale on 02.07.2010

Tricia and Marlena,

It’s one of those little realities of life that we always have to walk a line between the business and the creative side of writing. 

But I’ve found that keeping them as separate as possible is important to me.

[10] Posted by Tori Minard on 03.04.2010

Thank you for writing this, Laura.  I’m a writer too, although unpublished, and sometimes the business side of things makes me want to scream or cry or hide in a cave.  The cave would have to come equipped with paper and pens, of course. 

I’ve found recently that when I write with an eye to what others want to read, I become paralyzed.  Maybe that’s because my muse deserts me.  It’s hard to hear her voice when you have all those other people yammering at you. 
Tori

[11] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.09.2010

Writers are different, Tori.  If you need to write “in a cave” then protect that need and don’t worry what others tell you, or how they do their work.

Listen to yourself first.

[12] Posted by Carl C. Kenyon on 03.11.2010

I have waited patiently for five long years for your next novel, of which I have every one. You don’t offend me Laura… you cannot offend those who love you.

Welcome back!

Carl

[13] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.12.2010

Thank you! I couldn’t ask for a nicer welcome back than that.

[14] Posted by Jai Joshi on 03.18.2010

I believe that writing is an art and that when I’m writing I write what I think is best, not what I think the reader wants. That’s very important because it’s about being true to the art and the story.

However, I do believe that art has a purpose. Art without a purpose is just pretentious nonsense. I feel very strongly about this. So with everything I write I try hard to do something with it, to inspire or provoke thought, to make my readers look at the world around them and see something different. To do any less is not to do justice to the story or the art of writing or even my talent.

That’s what I love so much about your work, Ms. Kinsale. I read your stories and your characters and I’m thrust into a different perspective, a new way of looking at the world. It’s inspiring.

Jai

[15] Posted by laura kinsale on 03.19.2010

Thank you Jai.  I tend to let the characters figure out for me what their purpose is!

[16] Posted by Kathleen Sage on 07.16.2010

Amanda:

Just to let you know, my sons are grown up now.  Todd has a life of adventure beyond anything I ever imagined.  He still does work in science for various people, including DARPA (you probably know what that is—I didn’t.)  This year, he worked in Afgahnistan, Uganda and Haiti, something having to do with geotagging and an iphone application that got mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.  This is the best I can explain how he make his living.

Tim is living in Phoenix Arizona and working on his PhD in communications.  He got married last year to a lovely girl.  If you want to see them—look on “you tube” under “Ignite Phoenix” and put in the names “Todd Huffmand” and “Tim Huffman.”  You will be completely awed by them.

Tony is still living in T-town.  He made me a grandma.  I have a beautiful, beautiful grandaughter named Alli.  He has ten acres and a landscaping business and is picking away at a Masters in English.  Writes great songs also. 

I am working as the executive director of Local 1828, a community college teacher’s local.

I have a very nice boyfriend, Rick, double Ph.D. in accounting and statistics from London School of Economics, professor of accounting at Cal State LA and part-time auditor of wineries for the Treasury Department.  Author of 15 text books.

Met him on the internet.  Fell in love because when I asked him why he sent me an email he said, “Well because authors of accounting textbooks are frustrated playwrights” and proceeded to tell me the plot of a play had written with vampires and bats modeled after Albee and Ionesco.”

I will rush out and buy Lesson in French.  I love your writing—and you—and have waited a long time for this novel.

Your friend always,
Kathy

[17] Posted by Debbra Martin on 07.20.2010

Language is magique.  It needs freedom to thrive.  Every Kinsale book has been a joy to read-more than once. Some people enjoy the limelight perhaps, but each author should share what they want - not by demand.  Wish you the best because I’ve taken so much joy from your characters and stories.  Merci.

[18] Posted by laura kinsale on 07.20.2010

Hi, Kathy!  I’m glad to hear you and the boys are doing so well. Congrats on being a grandmother!

Thank you Debbra.  Magic seems to strike when it will.

[19] Posted by Carolina on 08.03.2010

Hello!!!

Well, guess what. I was hoping that you didn’t even recall us when you were writing. I could tell for the things that you’ve written that you wasn’t. Well done!  If you lie as they ask you… we, your thinking wishing never forgetting readers, would know. And we would tell… He he. If you’d have done so, THEN you would have been one of a dime the dozen. But how many writers come out of a town? Or how many truthful person come out of a crowd? Honest AND writer. Mmm… How rare. You are.

According to a certain Japanese belief, the artist is an instrument that God uses to create a work of art in the material world. The credits belongs to Him (o Her? Can’t tell…) It is an humble belief! But it explains the duality in the artist. You artists are people like us. But still you have a connection with Someone or Something.

By the way, if you would have had the opportunity to write an e-mail to that Fowles dude… How it could have been? What he could have written to you? Damn, even I would like to know… (You couldn’t, but I write to one of my favorites… and she answer me! The miracles and miseries of the net) I can’t say that here, the internet is easy. It’s a jungle, worst that the concrete one. The nearness with the shouting and demanding one is the same with the whispering and the sheltering one. The nurturing oasis are scarce, but they exist… It’s so nice to sit here down the palm’s shadow, drinking nectar! Thank you!

To me, the struggle between art and commerce is equal to the one between spirit and matter. They are twins and they hold a mathematic relationship: more materialistic, less artistic. Matter>art. Spirit>commerce. Splendid language, the maths.

About the words. I do love them too. The first book of yours that I read was in Spanish. I liked it very much. When I read another in English… I like it more! Then I re-read it in Spanish… And I like it even more! But the story is the same. Some things are lost in the translation, but the characters are the same, their world is unchangeable. They exist beyond you an me. It still awes me how much alive a character can be. Much more than some humans!

With words I’m creating this letter to you, with a small amount of ability. Let’s say I walk with words. Some people can’t write an simple e-mail. They stumble with words.  How can some say that writing isn’t an art? See how you dance with words! They must be blind. I’m glad you don’t pay attention to them.

So, please, dear instrument of God… (Mmm… There’s a prayer that goes like that! Is one of the great ones) protect that line that you have with the capricious lady. We, the clueless babbling idiots (I’m not offended, it’s true I am) will try to encourage you and not to meddle in your unsteady relationship. Right everybody? (Them: Who said you can speak for us?/Me: Shaddap’n say yes, you babbling ones!/Them: Go to hell you clueless idiot!/Me: you forgot to say babbling!)

Sorry. I left my brain in my other hat.

Carolina.

[20] Posted by laura kinsale on 08.04.2010

“I walk with words.”  Nicely put, I like that!  Thank you, Carolina. :)

[21] Posted by Judith Earp on 09.01.2010

Laura, I have been in love with your books since the first I read ...
Flowers of the Storm.  I just found The Shadow and the Star ... ebook from B/N.  What a wonderful talent and muse you have.  Thank you for sharing your art.

[22] Posted by laura kinsale on 09.04.2010

Thank you for reading it, Judith!

[23] Posted by Ella on 10.08.2010

A few days ago I read again “Flowers from the storm”. First time I read it was a few years ago. My child was a toddler then, and loved to listen to some cildren song over and over again. So every time I hear this song, I, like some Pavlov’s dog, get the same feeling of elation that I felt reading this book of yours.
The duke,living it up before the duel, giving a mathematical lecture, starting it with an apology to his poor deceased math teacher for putting a smelt in his book, and how that same page where the smelt was, contained the stuff he was going to talk about. And then goes on that his love of curves made him love geometry…:)
Or the sensual description of Maddy to her blind father after the lecture, during which the father is touched to his soul, “seeing” his daughter for the first time in many years, and realising that she looks just like her late mother… and a billion of beautiful episodes like these…
My husband tells me that i’m hooked on romantic literature. And he is right, for sure.***


[edited for appropriate content by LK]

[24] Posted by laura kinsale on 10.08.2010

Thank you for posting, Ella.  You made some interesting points but to keep the website from attracting the wrong sort of notice, I edited your comment.

[25] Posted by Ella on 10.08.2010

Hello Laura,
I deeply apologize for using a “c” word. I didn’t mean it for real.
It was mor like a metaphor. Like Cole Porter used in his song:
“Some, they may go for c…
I’m sure that if I took even one sniff
It would bore me terrifically, too
Yet I get a kick out of you.”
But of course you are right. Our wourld got so politically correct these days, thay one doesn’t know what a simple metaphor will do to the ratings…
And about some combined wisdom of the king Solomon and a friend of mine,that you also didn’t like - well, it’s YOUR site. And as they say: “when in Rome act like a roman”.
But I adore you all the same. And wish you the best.
And I would LOOOVE to see “Flowers from the storm” as a movie.
Is there any chance of that?

[26] Posted by laura kinsale on 10.10.2010

Don’t worry, Ella, it’s not political correctness, it’s the spam bots.  Certain words draw their attention. I had to delete a couple of them from the site after your post. :( 

I understand and appreciate what you were saying. :)

[27] Posted by Ella on 10.14.2010

The other day I remembered what you said in an interview a couple of years ago: that since you became a writer you don’t read fiction anymore, because you can see all the buttons being pushed…
And I thought that being a payroll manager I can see them too, and I always have, but there are more buttons being pushed in real life. Corporations, managers, family… it’s being done, I tell you :)
Just the buttons that literature pushes make me much happier than the other ones. And that’s their goal, I know. So that I buy the product and all. But what the hell. Like Woody Allen says - whatever works…
Anyway, I know that I sound like a pathetic looser who should get a life :) So just tell me to shut up!
And have a nice day :)

[28] Posted by Sandra on 11.19.2010

I cried the whole time I read this! I’m always so afraid that the world isn’t going to like what I put out there… but you are so right! I have to stop thinking about writing to please anyone including myself! Amazing… you have opened my eyes! Thank You!

[29] Posted by laura kinsale on 11.21.2010

I fear that’s really the only way, Sandra, hard as it is sometimes.

[30] Posted by Courtney on 11.30.2010

Oh thank goodness you feel this way, Ms. Kinsale.  Otherwise I fear we may have never had Shadow Heart!  It is an absolute masterpiece.  The more times I read it, the more the book opens up and the more I understand about the characters and the ways in which they grow throughout the novel.  Brilliant.  Ah!  I can’t say enough about it.  So let me finish by saying: this book changed me.  Thank you for bringing it through, and for capturing it from the ethers and putting it on paper.  (And for not worrying about it’s marketability.)
Sincerely,
Courtney S.

[31] Posted by laura kinsale on 11.30.2010

Well I do worry about the marketability, but since I don’t know what would be marketable anyway, I just go ahead and do what I want. ;)

Glad you enjoyed SH, Courtney!

[32] Posted by Alisa (Lizzie) Walker on 01.17.2011

Dear Ms. Kinsale, I am a new writer, new to RWA and Celtic Hearts and just plain new period. I have heard of you but have not read your work.

a fellow author and teacher of my writing workshop recommended your work to me for several reasons. First, you are one of her favorite authors. Second, because in my writing I have a tendency to head hop which I find disconcerting and it has become a thorn in my side. She suggested I read your work as you are a master at perfecting deep POV.

So, here I find myself on your site reading bits here and there and I come upon this masterpiece “writing is not a service industry”.

I am in awe of you. Everything I ever felt about writing you summed up so eloquently and in a very succinct manner.

I am thrilled to know that I am not the only person that feels this gift of writing that I do alone but am willing to share with the world is born out of personal desire not personal gain. 

Writing for writing sake will never please anyone least of all the writer!

I will be picking up any and all books I can find by you today!

I can not wait.

- Lizzie Walker

[33] Posted by A writer on 01.21.2011

What a wonderful piece of writing. I’ve saved it in my personal files for when I get discouraged.

As my own readership has grown, so have the “million voices roaring whispering screaming over my shoulder” and it is paralyzing. At first I was excited to see people talking about my books on Amazon, GoodReads, or the romance review blogs, but then came the realization that not everyone always “gets it.” That some people hate it, and that some people almost appear to enjoy being pointlessly cruel. Even with twenty positive voices, the one ignorant, cruel voice would destroy me. I got disgusted with readers’ flippancy, and seeming ungratefulness, and the way that readers who purported to love my work were turning around and distributing it for free on torrent sites. I stopped writing, thinking I would teach those nasty readers a lesson! Ha! But then I changed tactics and just stayed off the internet.

That has solved my problem somewhat, but there is still the constant pressure from my publisher to “write what’s hot.” One of my publishers regularly sends out “calls” for what readers want. (Some that really floored me recently were “zombie love” and “steampunk.”) Then there is the pressure to do the dreaded “promo” and “sell my brand.” Put myself out there in front of readers no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. To enter contests and go to huge nationwide conventions with all the authors I’m competing with, who smile to my face but I suspect would rather stab me in the back.

Yes, it is very much “smile smile smile” and “be professional.” It is also all about pressuring you to do what will bring the publisher the most $$$ although they make a lot of noise about “developing your career” and other nice words that really translate into “how much money can we make off you?” When I choose not to jump through those hoops and to write for the pleasure of it, I feel marginalized and unprofessional. It’s a push/pull I struggle with every day, which is why it was so wonderful to find this posted here. I had never poked into your “tea” section before.

As for readers meeting the authors they idolize, I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have this experience. Through an agent, I got into contact with one of my most favorite authors, and actually worked for nearly a year with her husband to adapt one of her books into a screenplay. At first, it was like touching a god. I walked around with my feet barely touching the ground. I was so excited, I felt so privileged. But it only took a few weeks to realize that the author I idolized was petty, self-centered, manipulative, and basically someone I would never in a zillion years have been friends with. It was a hard lesson, and sadly, her books were ruined for me thereafter. I can’t read them anymore without thinking of the terribly unpleasant woman behind the pen. Lesson learned… And who’s to say if my readers knew the “real” me that they wouldn’t be just as turned off?

Even now, I feel I must post this anonymously so one of my readers doesn’t find it and judge me for the words I wrote here. It is hard to walk this line of being true to yourself and still pleasing readers. Publishing is the grating confluence of business and art.

But at least I will always have my books that I’m very proud of and that I love like—yes—children. I try to remember that that’s the important thing, as I struggle with publishers and readers and the internet.

Sorry this was so long and ranty, but thank you thank you thank you for being brave enough (unlike me) to stop smiling that fake smile and tell the truth about who you write for, and to remind me that it’s okay to approach writing as something other than a business service!

[34] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 01.31.2011

Hi Ms Kinsale/Laura
First of all, I am a stonking great HUGE fan of yours and have posted (gushingly) on other pages of your website.  You obviously do a stupendous amount of research for your books; I am so impressed.  However… I have a miniscule, picky, niggle! It’s hard to know which page I should post this on.  I’m offering it in the spirit of constructive criticism - and With Love. 

When reading your work, I almost never find myself brought up short by anything that I perceive to be anachronistic or jarring - but the following example gets me every time. (I’m really sorry if telling you this will annoy or offend you. Lots of non-English writers do it but I don’t care enough about them to bother to email.)

The use of the double preposition “off of” jars horribly with me.

I know it’s commonly used in the States and probably Canada too. I may be a bit of a snob; my teenage daughters use “off of” and I yell at them.  I’ll be 50 years old in 4 weeks and 5 days - I was born here in England and I’m an English Lit. university graduate.  I was taught that it is not considered to be ‘good English’ to place two prepositions together and (certainly) no-one from the upper classes in England would do so when speaking. (Definitely not MY background, I hasten to add!) 

Laura, it just feels/sounds wrong (in my head) when I read it in a period novel set in England; I feel as if I’ve stumbled and fallen when I come across it in the middle of your beautifully crafted prose.

I feel unworthy. Such a minor flaw. I hope you’re not screaming in fury at your computer screen…

I wish you all the best and hope you’re currently on good terms with your Muse. I can’t wait to take that first walk into whatever world you’re creating right now.

Viv x

[35] Posted by Tori Minard on 01.31.2011

To Viv: I’m not Laura and I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds by saying this, but you have to remember that what is considered good English today isn’t necessarily what people were saying two hundred years ago.  The double preposition may be a mistake—I honestly don’t know.  I just wanted to point out that standards in English have changed and will continue to change.  Also, I’ve heard that we North American barbarians use some English conventions that are actually more old-fashioned than ones current in Great Britain.  Apparently in some areas you Brits moved on while we N.Americans clung to our outmoded ways, lol. 

Tori Minard
http://www.toriminardwrites.wordpress.com
The Heart Moon

[36] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 01.31.2011

Hi Laura - and hi Tori Minard
Thanks for your response, Tori.  Of course you’re correct in saying that language is constantly evolving. My daughters, who watch a lot of US television programmes, use “off of”, and I’m very sure that this WILL eventually become standard English in the UK - even though its usage has been, and is still, considered to be ‘grammatically incorrect’ in everyday speech, over here. 

My discomfort with “off of” is very specific. On reflection, it has NOTHING to do with the fact that “off of” is a ‘double preposition’ - there are numerous, grammatically correct double prepositions in English.  It has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that it is being used by writers in, specifically, English historical genre novels. I have ONLY ever seen it used by North American writers.  I’m not bothered by its use in contemporary novels - that’s an accurate representation of the way a lot of people speak, NOW.  And I’m really not bothered if it’s an historical novel which is completely written in the modern vernacular - that can be fun. It’s the mish-mash that upsets me.  In some things, I’m a purist. 

I am so wowed by Laura’s writing and her obvious attention to historical detail, that I want her to get the English grammar right too.  I’m a university graduate in English Literature [from Chaucer (14th Century) through to E.M. Forster (20th century)]and I am fairly confident that “off of” was NOT used by educated, contemporaneous writers through this period. I would be really happy to have this ‘fact’ disproved - with evidence!

When it comes to the crunch, I suppose my real objection is to the anachronistic mixing of modern American grammar with older English speech patterns in, otherwise, accurately re-constructed English historical genre novels.

If you have any time, I’d love to hear what you think, Laura.

Viv

[37] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 01.31.2011

P.S. To clarify and correct my previous statement that “it is not considered to be ‘good English’ to place two prepositions together” - This is not strictly true! I’m confusing myself. (English grammar is so complicated.)

Ha! I have also now just proved myself wrong about the absence of “off of” in English literature!!!! 

http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/619/off-of-vs-off 

See the entry referring to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Loads of examples of “off of”!  Well, that told me! 

Still feels wrong, though; I’m pretty sure neither Jane Austen nor Georgette Heyer used it!  Lol.

APOLOGIES to Laura :P

[38] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 02.01.2011

Dear Laura
Please tell me to go away if my little obsession with a point of grammar is now irritating you beyond reason. (‘F… off of’?)  I do appreciate the irony of me pleading with you to change something about the way you write, on a page where you state quite clearly: “No more…do I want to know…your ten million conflicting opinions” !!

However…

Having carefully perused the OED link (previous post), I can report that all the examples given, are of “off of” being used in ‘direct’ or ‘reported’ speech - in other words, it would seem to have always been in use, colloquially. There are NO examples given of its use in descriptive, literary passages. 

I know this hasn’t been a particularly scientific examination of the facts(!) but I would maintain that the use of “off of” in English historical genre novels should be restricted to the voices of individual characters. It should not be used impartially by a neutral author (unless, of course, she is telling the story in the first person and it fits with her character).

I’ll shut up, now.

[39] Posted by laura kinsale on 02.01.2011

Liz and Writer, thank you for your comments, I really appreciate them

Heh,sorry Viv and Tori, I seem to have overlooked this discussion.

Viv, these comments are here for readers to speak up, and I appreciate your attention.  I actually have no idea whether I’ve used “off of” frequently or not.  Do I do it a lot?

This reminds me that in my first book, my mother sent it to one of her English friends who said everything seemed accurate except that at one point the hero walks some number of “city blocks,” and there are no city blocks in England.  That kind of alerted me to the fact that there will always be things I just don’t know and probably won’t find out until it’s too late, no matter how much research I do!

That said, Tori is correct, quite a few things that sound like “Americanisms” are actually holdovers from a more archaic English.  If something strikes me as sounding suspiciously modern or un-English, I do just what you did, I go look it up in the OED.  Sometimes, if something shown in writing at a certain date, I make the assumption that it must have been used verbally at least some period of time before that, unless it’s a word that some particular “birth” like a technical event. 

“Off of” never really struck me, I guess.  Since I don’t know where I used it, and you imply it wasn’t in dialogue, I don’t know if I had any particular reasoning or not.  It does strike me as an awkward construction, but I must have let it slip through.

[40] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 02.11.2011

Hi Laura
Thanks for your response. Sorry for the delay with mine.

Rest assured, you don’t use “off of” frequently; but I’ve been aware of it in several of your books - as you say, it’s probably only there when you’ve “let it slip through”.  When I re-read your books (starting again this summer - but possibly before that, if my self-discipline completely deserts me), I could make a note of all the occasions “off of” is used but I’m not sure what good it would do you, now.  I would, however, be MORE than happy to proof-read your NEXT novel for you, in order to help you avoid further “slips” :) :) Totally selfless, that’s me. (“That’s me” is DEFINITELY grammatically incorrect!)

Best wishes… May your Muse walk quietly beside you.

Viv x

[41] Posted by Viv (aka Vixen) on 02.12.2011

On second thoughts… I think, if I were you, I’d like to have my Muse dancing, or even skipping, alongside me.

Vx

[42] Posted by Cathy Koentges on 02.22.2011

Good on you as they say down under. It’s art and only you know how to make your own. I am thrilled you have shared another journey with us.
Thank You,
Cathy

[43] Posted by Shelley on 05.04.2011

Laura, you are an author for whom I feel the deepest of respect. Not only for your books, but also for your opinions about the writing process. I recently had this very discussion on Amazon about a certain author of paranormal romance. This woman has a huge following on her website and has basically handed over the process of creating her series to the “ten million conflicting opinions” of her fan base. As a result the quality of her work has been so drastically reduced I can hardly believe its the same author I started out loving. That’s why my loving for your work has been so unwavering. Because you have standards. I love you for who you are an author and I love you for what you stand for. I have far more respect for someone like you, someone who dares to follow her own heart rather than be cowered into writing what pleases the crowd. I hope you’ll keep on fighting the good fight.

[44] Posted by Leonard Shaw on 05.12.2011

Well, that’s exactly right.  It’s like when Kate Winslet was asked, early in her career, in an acting workshop, why she acted-and, of all the actresses, she was the only one who said: “I act for myself.” And that’s a main reason why Kate, and you, Ms. Kinsale, are good at what you do. What’s interesting and admirable is that ‘doing it for oneself’ is the fountainhead of integrity in art, and as you mentioned, that’s hard to come by nowadays.

[45] Posted by Kirsten Wallace on 06.21.2011

Wow.
I loved this. For me, this is hitting the nail on the head.
On the one hand I can see why this got such a strong response, but on the other hand I am in total agreement with you. I hope that you stick to this opinion throughout your life and your writing career. Another author once told me that if you love what you write other people, even if it’s only a small number, will love it to. The passion writers have for their characters and worlds and stories comes through in the writing. When you try to turn yourself into what it seems like everyone else wants that passion disappears, as it does in any form of art that doesn’t come from deep inside of the creator.

[46] Posted by laura kinsale on 06.21.2011

Once again I seem to have missed some comments here (I think I keep accidentally un-checking the box.)

Shelley, those conflicting opinions are one of the most dangerous things an author faces, I think.  It’s sort of like the rats in a maze, who get shocked no matter which way they go—eventually they just freeze.  So in the end every author has to find a way to keep moving forward.

Leonard, I must say I’m happy to be put in the same category with Kate Winslet!  If only I was as beautiful, dang.

Kristen, I too believe that if you’re passionate about what you are writing (and that includes passionate enough to make it as good as you can make it—a good editor helps there!) that there will be an audience.

[47] Posted by Judith Leger on 06.27.2011

Hi Laura,

I’ve been a fan of yours for so many years. What made me keep coming back to you? You have heart in your books. A type of heart you can’t find in too many books out there. Thank you for that.

What made me decide to write?  Authors that allow their muse to tell the story and not allow the trend of the day to dominate their voice. I have tried many times to fit into the trends but my muse glares and refuses to take one step in that direction.  She has a mind of her own and I have to travel the path she’s designated. Do I mind?  Not at all. My books may not fit into a niche but it doesn’t matter.

I really appreciate your post in ways you would not believe.  It validates why I write. Thank you.

[48] Posted by Claudia Smith on 06.30.2011

Your novels always transport me, or rather I catch a ride on that unwinding golden thread into a kind of enchantment. It’s not easy to write what you do, but I am grateful that you reach out into awareness of both the pain of being and the joy of kindness and the necessity of love. That doesn’t really sum it up, just as the thread alone doesn’t make the stitch, somehow your process is the element that transmutes it all.

I love to read everything from Zane Grey to Edgar Pangborn to Nalini Singh and Sara Monette, and I have read all of your books more than once, (sometimes more than five or six times.) Thanks for Lessons in French. Charming, poignant, clever and funny. Loved it.

[49] Posted by laura kinsale on 07.02.2011

Thank you, Claudia, I appreciate that.

[50] Posted by Silke Juppenlatz on 07.13.2011

Well said.
I don’t write for readers. I write because I have to write—or go insane. I love my books, whether other people do or not, they are mine, and—as you so eloquently said—they are of me.
Mostly I write for myself.
Some like what I write, some don’t. That’s okay. We can’t all have the same taste.
I don’t really care about gushing praise, either.
But if a reader tells me they enjoyed the story, it makes me smile.
Writing is what I do. Everything else is a bonus.

[51] Posted by Tara on 07.13.2011

Wonderfully well put. Thank you.

[52] Posted by Scoyphenson on 10.04.2011

Thank you for this. I am one of those people who always stays up into the small hours of the night praying that the story will never, ever end and yet wanting desperately to know how it all turns out. I am also a writer and know the moments of astonishment and heartache that come with the attempt to make words do your bidding - or not.

Your language is beautiful and your mind delightfully original. I hope (for reasons both selfish and altruistic) that the muse continues to visit you in your desert stronghold. Also, I love your beautiful dogs. It’s a pleasure to see Elena’s puppy in the fur.

[53] Posted by laura kinsale on 10.05.2011

Heh, you noticed the resemblance of Nimue to certain pyrs of my acquaintance!

‘An original mind’ is a very flattering way of putting it.  Some people just say, “Her plots are on crack.” (Now will that draw bots here?)

Thank you.  I re-read this from time to time, and it’s still pretty much true for me.

[54] Posted by Pamela Veenstra on 10.14.2011

Yes! If writing doesn’t work, hang together, create all the drama, conflict, of the ocean in high seas, it quickly palls for me. I love, and often do, give up sleep to a compelling, well-written saga. Feel no shame at giving myself over to the small world created in good fiction. Perfectly understandable that you must limit outside influence in order to create a resounding whole. Carry on!

[55] Posted by Searock on 03.10.2012

So good, so timely.
Thank you, Laura, for your perspective. It is a wonderful addition to the debates floating around out there.

captcha: light32
:)

[56] Posted by Rewa on 09.03.2012

Hmmm, writing…a service industry, interesting. Not since highsch days, Ive never read or came across anyone who conveyed such a odd opinion upon writers. Maybe if we lived in the Roman era, servicing to royalty, then yes, really anythg was considered to be “a service” to them, if not, then one could get hanged or imprisoned if orders werent carried out if called upon.

I was trying to see what year this article that u mentioned came out, was this before women could vote?!? The word “service,” how its conveyed in this manner, implies prostitution it seems, demeaning in some way. I would never never never in this decade consider writing, writers, servicing ppl for a good book!

I totally agree w/ all the comments & ur opinion that writing is an art form. I draw & paint sometimes, when i have time, and sometimes when i’m drawing, i wonder ALLLLL throughout the process where my imagination came from head onto paper, its feels like magic b/c i cant believe when its done, that i did it! Its odd really, sometimes creativity comes instantly from a song i’m listening to, i see colors & forms. I get so excited that i have to place my thoughts into cohesive lines & forms. And sometimes it can last for a year or more finishing art items.

Then there are days, where, well u guys have writer’s block, artists have dry blocks, i call them “dry” b/c no paints, no pencils, just a dry, blank paper. I need inspiration to spark most of my artistic knack; and time. I dont do my art stuff for pay, just hobby. But those who can, very very very lucky!! such as urself. I dont mean that in a “servicing” way, its just if u can do artistic things & ppl are interested enough to purchase them, that u can do it as a profession, well then, in a way odd way - ur servicing everyone.

Rewards, personal & financial, are reciprocated both ways, we do live in a capitalistic society. If ppl loved my chocolates & wanted to buy more, it would be a disservice not to make more, esp if i loved making chocolates! Having an audience for my talents to be served upon is really what makes cooking even more challenging & more rewarding. In the end, its the consumers who are the servers b/c we want more great stuff to serve our materialistic needs!! For godsake, did u see the lines for the Harry Potter books, or the Twilight craze, women, not teens, were in lines. We’re slaves for good entertainment!!

[57] Posted by Kristyne Raley on 01.14.2013

Thank you for the thought-provoking article.  I’ve been struggling with my writing for years, wondering if I’ll ever “make it.”  And because of this quest to be “legitimate” in the eyes of others, I have forgotten the sheer joy of letting my characters out of my head and truly enjoying worlds that can only be conjured in my imagination.

Your words here have reminded me that writing and creativity is a rare and beautiful art that should be celebrated, not stifled to fit the hottest trends in publishing or what will sell in the market.

[58] Posted by Clare on 05.04.2013

I feel exactly the same about singing

[59] Posted by Sue Robbins on 02.07.2014

What happens to us, d’ya think, as we age and slow down (or stop) doing what was so damned important when we were younger…and driven?  I was 38 when I picked up “Flowers From The Storm,” and now I’m 57…God, almost 58. 

I understand “been there, done that.” But I hope you’ll understand when I say that sometimes I wish I were 38, again.  And I wish you were, too.

[60] Posted by Jane on 03.26.2014

You get to do whatever you like, because you weave these magical tapestries that could only be diminished if your attention was on your readers instead.

You have been “my favorite living author” for 23 years, since I was pregnant with my first child and read my first romance novel ever: “Seize the Fire.” Your characters lived with me through 19 years of a horrible marriage, and the years of loneliness after, and now, as I’ve fallen in love for real this time, I’m happy to realize that you told the truth, at least. Love can and does exist, decent and loving men do walk on this earth, and it seems all those hopeful daydreams weren’t for nothing.

Seriously, I have 3 favorite writers, whose stories I keep next to my bed on the shelf with my copy of the iChing - the books that sustain me when I need it. You, Charlotte Bronte, and Jane Austen.

I’m glad you don’t give a hoot about the readers - you are making magic instead, and I’m just really glad I get to experience it! I can’t thank you enough.

[61] Posted by Hope Morrissett on 08.05.2014

Dear Laura; I started out to say “for some people…” and then realized that I speak for myself.  I live to serve those I love, and I try to serve the world to the best of my ability and in the ways I am given to do.  But the kind of serving you are talking about is about the narcissistic demands of people who have holes that need to be filled (well, don’t we all, really?) and want you to help them fill those holes.  When I read the work of a gifted writer, I live in that world and when I’m done, I’m torn out of it, often feeling left bereft.  It’s not that I don’t have a life, I do, although very challenging these days.  I’m the daughter of an extraordinary woman, a librarian who read everything and believed books and knowledge were the key to freedom.  She went as many times as she could behind the Iron Curtain to share and exchange information and culture with people who were given only a limited supply of it.  So books have always been sacred to me, and writers (and artists of all kinds) who have the courage and willingness to pull from themselves or be conduits for our deepest human truths are people I see as some of our greatest treasures.  I rarely try to contact even my favorite authors; I love my own privacy and I respect the need of more public people for their own even more.  So what I’m trying to say here is that in fact you are serving your readers.  And what I hear you saying is that what you give us is what you have to give and that we have no right to be parasites on you and your life.  To serve in this way is to give freely; to serve on demand is slavery.
Your books are all extraordinary, every one.  I am astonished at the depth and breadth of your characters and their stories.  I have not once (and this is really true) had the experience of being kicked out of the story to say, but wait, oh come on, this makes no sense.  The flow just happens.  I feel such gratitude as an old sometimes jaded reader for that gift.
Sadly, so many people who are critiquing books these days - on Amazon, etc., are only responding to whether that book filled a particular hole for them at that particular time.  I often read (especially about romance-style novels) that “I just didn’t like that character” as the reason to give a one star review.  I wish there was some way of categorizing books (respectfully of course) as pure wish-fulfillment so that those readers can find what they need and I can more easily find the books (of almost any genre) that speak to my heart and my brain and leave me with more than I had before.  Because I have loved reading (actually listening) to your books, of course I would wish your muse would be with you so that you could continue to write, but even more, as a fellow human, I wish that your muse will help you stay true to yourself, wherever that leads you.
And yes, I really am just this mushy.

[62] Posted by Laura Kinsale on 08.05.2014

Hope,

Thank you.

And glad you are listening.