Today I am so pleased to welcome Matthew Metzger to Joyfully Jay. Matthew has come to talk to us about his latest release, Sex in C Major. He has also brought along a tour wide giveaway. Please join me in giving Matthew a big welcome!
The Writer and the Written
What’s the difference between a character saying something, and the author saying something?
Does that sound like a stupid question? One’s in speech marks and the other isn’t, right? Well, no, not quite.
To take an example I saw very recently: a book (I can’t remember what or who by) was going to be released soon. Someone on Twitter had an advanced reader copy, and highlighted a certain passage. In the passage, two teenage boys were mocking an extremely boring speech by making gestures to one another, in silence so the speaker wouldn’t notice, of slitting their wrists, hanging themselves, and so on. The reader called this out as problematic. Subsequent retweets and discussion then expanded from ‘these characters are mocking suicide’ to ‘this book is mocking suicide’ to ‘this author is mocking suicide.’
I’m not discussing here whether the example itself is or isn’t problematic. My point is, we have three options. The character, the book, or the author are condoning a thing (in this case, making fun of suicide). Where does the line exist between the three?
In Sex in C Major, there are three main characters (because that’s kind of necessary, for a triad). One of them is making reasonably sensible decisions throughout. One of them is straddling the line, sometimes making good calls and sometimes making stupid ones. And one, the star of the story, is making supremely stupid decisions more or less from beginning to end. Stefan is not great at life choices. So here we have a character who does stupid things.
(No, really. Do not approach sexual relationships in any way like Stefan does. I wrote him, and even I want to shake him and ask what the hell he thinks he’s doing, the daft berk.)
The first part of the argument is very easy and perfectly true. The character is condoning a thing. He makes these dumb choices, usually perfectly aware that they are dumb choices, and so makes the complete mess of his life worse. He knows he’s doing it, he doesn’t make speeches about why he shouldn’t do it, he just goes, “Screw this!” and does it anyway. He condones his own behaviour, and keeps going.
On to the second. Does the book condone the thing? Does the book condone making stupid life choices? This is where it gets hard, and becomes far more open to interpretation. When is a book condoning something at all? Is the very fact the thing exists a manner of condoning it, or it is alright if the narrative presents the thing as bad all the way through? What if the thing is sometimes bad, sometimes neutral, and sometimes good? What if it’s always good?
Inevitably, this becomes up to the reader. Some would—have—read Sex in C Major and see it as not condoning anything at all. Others would—will—see it as condoning stupid decisions all over the place. And both are perfectly right, because no two readers read the same book.
So, let’s say the book does condone these stupid decisions. Does that mean I, as the author, condone them?
The obvious answer is yes—I must do! I wrote it!
Except…I also would slap the shit out of Stefan for 99% of his actions in this book. I would shake any friend who decided to handle things the way he does it until their brains rattled in their heads. And some parts of the book are directly drawn from my own stupid choices, and ones I would hand on heart say should not be repeated.
So why the hell would I write it?
This, to me, is the difference between should and does. Some books are about what should be the case, and what should be done. There should be no racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism. There should be good will to all men, and happy endings. There should be no money worries, unhealthy relationships, or mental illness.
And then other books—my books—are about does. Racism does exist. Bad behaviour does exist. Cancer does exist. Making a stupid choice, one that you ought to never, ever make, does happen.
But in that very approach, am I condoning things? By writing does instead of should, do I condone does? And do we proceed, therefore, into the author being problematic?
I have no answer for this.
Except for this one: when is the character speaking, and when is the author speaking? Is it possible for the character to believe something that the author does not?
My answer would be yes…but far too few authors let them. As a profession, we tend to only write our villains to disagree with us, and make our heroes align to us in every way that matters. Their morals and beliefs are our own, and so if their beliefs are problematic, it can be generally assumed that the author’s are too.
We need to step away from this, and let our characters breathe. And the inevitable side-effect is that we will start to write different characters, different heroes, with more nuance and grey areas, than we’ve been doing before.
I am a grafter at heart and would be deeply ashamed if I were voluntarily unemployed and doing nothing to pay my way. I come from a family destroyed by drugs and alcohol. I firmly believe in personal independence and resilience, and tend towards thinking that a 24/7 submissive lifestyle is not all that healthy for the submissive in question. These are beliefs of mine.
Stefan contravenes every single one.
So the character does what I do not condone. All the time. Because that is what people do.
So if you’re a writer yourself, try something scary. Write what you love—but write it happening to someone that you don’t. Put your narrative in someone else’s hands, and see what happens. Step outside of yourself, and sink into someone else’s head, and see what they do, instead of what you think they should do.
Let the written do the talking, and not the writer.
Stefan has … fantasies.
He knows chasing those fantasies is only going to end in disaster, but he can’t seem to stop his self-destructive spiral. He’s a transgender man struggling to come to terms with the intersection of his identity and his sexual fantasies as a submissive. He needs someone to take control before he loses it completely.
Daz can take control. He can teach Stefan everything there is to know about sex and submission, but for some reason, he can’t get inside Stefan’s head. Daz can stop Stefan’s self-destruction but not the fear that fuels it.
Stefan needs to know who he is before he can accept what he is. And it’s Yannis — Daz’s aromantic, asexual, stern, and sarcastic partner — who has the answer.
Find Sex in C Major on Goodreads
Matthew J. Metzger is a British, working-class author of British, working-class QUILTBAG fiction. From sweet young adult to dark and dangerous adult, he likes to write people and their relationships—familial, platonic, romantic and sexual—with the cracks and creases on full show. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook, and his backlist on Goodreads or his website.
Matthew has brought a copy of Sex in C Major and What It Looks Like to give away along his tour. Just follow the Rafflecopter below to enter.
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