This is an apology.
I just finished writing the acknowledgments for The Glass Republic. I thanked my publisher, my agent and my family but for the second time in a row, I left some people out. I forgot to thank the readers.
Shit, I’m sorry. I thought readers went without saying, but people ‘going without saying’ has a way of turning into people ‘going without due credit’ so, in the spirit that coming late to the party is better than not showing up, I’m saying it now.
Readers make a story, at least as much as an author does. That’s not a rhetorical pose, it’s not a protestation of false modesty, it is, as far as I can see, a simple, ontological fact.
A bunch of words printed on a page aren’t a story. A story isn’t a story until it’s read. Oliphaunts don’t get their tusks or their heft, dark towers don’t become tall or forbidding, heroes don’t become heroes and lovers don’t become lovers (and for that matter Railwraiths don’t become railwraiths) until a reader takes them, flexes their imaginative muscles and shapes them into their conceptions of those things. And the fact that it’s their conceptions can’t be overemphasized. It’s vital. Readers aren’t computers you can feed a story-programme into and watch it emerge onto their screens, the same each time. Every reading is unique.
So far, so obvious, right? Except that that one obvious fact has a simple corollary, one that the language we use when we talk about this stuff (‘the author, the book I wrote’ etc) totally fails to capture:
I, and every other author out there, am in a creative partnership* with the people who read my stuff.
Now, that might look like it’s me trying to be adorably humble, but it’s actually the most self-aggrandizing thing I’ve ever said.
For one thing, following from the above, The City’s Son’s not just one novel. It’s a different story – not just for every reader – but for every time the book is read. Rather than being the author of one tale, I’m a collaborator in many. I just exponentially multiplied my productivity! My editor will be thrilled. (Granted all the stories will be pretty similar, but that never did David Eddings any harm. ) What’s even cooler? Most of these stories are collaborations with – and only exist in the minds of – people I’ve never even met.
The other reason this idea is self-aggrandizing is this: I’ve written two and a half books (yes Skyscraper Three is a bit behind schedule, yes, I’ll catch up), but I’ve read countless more. So by this way of thinking I’ve worked with Jane Austen and China Miéville and John Le Carré and Ursula Le Guin, all on little tiny works of art that exist between my ears. I’ve collaborated with people I don’t share a language with, people who died hundreds of years before I was born, and did so using a technology that’s existed for millennia, and so have you.
So, without wanting to sound trite, thank you. It’s been a total pleasure working with you. You guys fucking rock.
*In a philosophical rather than legal sense, but still important.
P.S. This, by the way, is the reason there’s no such thing as a ‘wrong way to read’ or ‘reading too much into’ a story. There’s just the creation of a new story, over and over again, and that story will be however you’ve read it. It can’t be otherwise.
P.P.S What I’d like to say, but I’m less sure about, is that every time we engage in a conversation with each other that alters our perception of the stories we’re working with each other on editing them, but, hey, it’s something to think about.