I realize that I have been glib about the release of The Other. This
is in intentional. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my first new novel in
five years. Far from it. I’m aware of both its merits and its faults. It
is certainly novel, in the sense of the adjective. One of my fears as a
writer is that I might one day fall into repetition, merely
regurgitating patterns ad nauseum, writing for the sake of tapping out
keystrokes, the form without the substance. Despite The Other being,
in some senses, a successor to Alterra (it is not a sequel), The
Other does achieve something new.
No, the reason I’ve been quiet is that I don’t want this novel to get
that much attention. I set out to capture our political moment in
science fiction form, and I succeeded in that, but in doing so, I’m
fairly certain I’ve crafted a work that will draw ire from my
contemporaries. Members of both the political left and right will find
reason to believe that I am pushing the “agenda” of the “other side.”
Funny, as the politicization of otherness is kind of what the novel is
Once again, I’m quite glad to be in the position I am in,
self-publishing and doing all my own editing and layouts, as taxing as
that is, because it means I have the freedom to pursue my intellectual
and philosophical interests wherever they may lead me, even if they
aren’t even remotely marketable, and even if they grate against
It also means that I am free to ignore bad feedback, which I have
noticed that there is a lot of. I just recently heard from a reader
about the supposed importance of “hooks.” My former toxic writing group
first introduced me to this concept eight years ago. The idea is that a
chunk of writing should begin with something exciting, something to
create conflict, or something that sets up a mystery. Something
“engaging.” The idea is that a reader will not want to continue reading
unless this “compelling something” is present.
The length of text that this mandate applies to seems to be shrinking
over time. When I attended my toxic writing group, the hook was
supposedly a one-time necessity at the beginning of a novel, novella, or
short story. More recently, I have seen it discussed as being a required
component for every section of a novel, or even every chapter.
I do not want readers who need hooks in order to keep paying attention.
Do you know what I do when I’m reading something and I find my attention
straying? I back up a paragraph or two and I force myself to pay
attention this time.
Real damage is done to both readers and writers in catering to the idea
of hooks. Readers become trained to believe that whenever their
attention strays from a text, its the fault of the text or the writer,
rather than them for not paying attention. When writers fall into the
trap thinking that their works need hooks, then they end up catering to
forces that are pushing all of writing into one homogeneous mass. They
end up throwing out the possibility of exploring ideas and concepts in
order to pander to intellectual weakness, or to push salable ideologies
rather than explore the truth of the human condition.
The Other is not without its exciting moments. I am fully aware of the
fact that I have included one rather large explosion, and, on another
occasion, an instance of mass hysteria resulting in a shoot out. I do
not want a world where all events of all novels are physically droll and
emotionally sterile. It is fine for a novel to have exciting moments,
but those moments should serve the novel’s core substance; they should
reinforce its point. A hook’s only purpose is to pander to an audience.
As a writer, I feel responsible for crafting a work that is as
intellectually challenging as I can make it. As such, I require that my
readers be up to the challenge of paying careful attention and thinking.
I have no need for readers who merely want exciting images projected
into their brains. Our society provides media much more effective at
that than writing, anyway.
The best critical feedback I have ever received has been constructed
along these lines: “It seems you intended to do A, but did you notice,
that because of this particular construction, you in fact had an effect
of B.” Sadly, this form of feedback is exceedingly rare. More often
it’s: “Do more A, because everything other than that is boring.”
I tolerated this to a certain degree in the past. The only response I
can muster in the present is: “no way.”