Monday, January 17, 2011

The Explainer

In The Deathday Letter, I know everything.  I know what I meant.  I know why Ollie acted the way he did.  I know where the letters come from.  I know everything.

And I'm not going to tell you.

There's this story called The Replacements by Lisa Tuttle that I studied in college.  Basically it's about a man who sees these creatures all over the place.  They're attached to women by a golden chain, and the animals drink their blood.  The women choose the creatures over the men.  You should really read it if you get the chance.  My professor taught this story as a look at how a man feels during a pregnancy.  Like he's being pushed out of the relationship by the unborn child.  When I read it, I saw it as a discussion on abortion.  I created the argument based on the text and presented it to my professor.  It was an interpretation of the reading he'd never seen before.  He didn't necessarily agree with me.

And there was no way to prove either interpretation.  Because they're that.  Interpretations.  They're not right, they're not wrong.  They're yours.

When I let go of Deathday,  I knew that people were going to read things into Deathday that I never intended.  The possibility existed that people wouldn't "get" Ollie the way I did.  And I made my peace with that.  In fact, I've seen some outstanding takes on Deathday...ideas that I didn't intend.  Interpretations I didn't expect.  And that's pretty cool.

Because people are pretty cool.

And smart.  Deathday isn't mine anymore.  It's yours.  All the books are yours.  All the books belong to you.


  1. This was a huge shift in my approach to writing, and I'm not sure what inspired it. For a long time it was very important to me that folks understood everything about what I was writing. I would get upset when I thought it was all very clear and they didn't catch on. I would beat myself up for not getting it across.

    Sometime, somehow, that changed, and now I think part of the fun is letting people have it over the meaning of what I write.

    That's not to say I don't still get annoyed someone either goes completely the wrong direction or only gets the surface level -- but now I just sigh a little and go on with life.

  2. CN - It's a place I think all writers need to get to. It upsets me when writers take to the internets to tell people that their interpretations of their book are wrong.

    I mean, who am I to tell someone that their interpretation of my book is wrong? Interp is dependent upon what that person brings to it. Things in a person's life color how they view the world and how they're going to interpret a book. Something I see as life affirming, another might view as a nihilistic outlook. And that doesn't make either of them wrong.

  3. I like this concept!!!! I agree, it IS all about perception.

    I haven't read the book you will have to go on the TBR pile, for sure!

  4. You make an excellent point Shaun. That's the beauty of it all. 100 readers are going to have 100 different reactions, hopefully. In fact if they're inspired at all they're probably more likely to react differently than someone else. We're all the sum of our experiences after all.

  5. Yeah, these days I actually find it almost more rewarding when I get a variety of conflicting but thoughtful interpretations of my writing. It means I got in their brains a little and sparked original thought, which is way cool.

  6. Thanks Shaun. I hope I didn't overstep my bounds with our previous conversation on this subject, but I completely understand and agree with where you're coming from.

    You are right that everyone can pull their own interpretation, and it definitely is interesting to see how different people interpret the same literary work. Great post.


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