The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Ed Howdershelt

      You can be rather didactic at times and you sometimes write as if for the masses with above-average vocabularies, but such things aren't a problem if you don't plan to sell the works outside that stratospheric realm of readers.

       I worry about that. Sometimes I think I should 'dumb down', but that would be phoney. That's the way I write — it's natural for me. I mean, I don't comb the theaurus looking for impressive words, and I'm didactic (love that word) to the extent that I really happen to enjoy that sort of thing in what I read.
      I've read stuff by authors who seem to be trying to impress their readers with two-dollar words, and it pisses me off. It's pretention for the sake of pretension. The crap I use just comes to me as being the most appropriate thing to say at the time. I think it doesn't sound forced — but I don't really know how it plays for others.

      Hmm… I sometimes comb the ol' mental thesaurus to find a more commonplace word to use, but when there isn't one.…? Ta hell widdem. Let 'em look it up or grasp the meaning via context. If they can do that, it won't look too alien to them.

      I don't mind challenging readers. Hell, it's almost a duty, as far as I'm concerned. It's possible that there might be a lot of potential readers who aren't necessarily 'stratospheric', but like to think that they are. If so, they'll carry the book around conspicuously so as to let everyone know how brainy they are.
      Ah, vanity…
      As for the chromedomes who do actually seem to comprise my audience so far, there's not much else for them to choose from as far as silly fiction is concerned. If you can snag all of a limited audience, then you'll do well — especially as the Internet becomes more important as a way for people to find the things they're most interested in.
      Look at Mac and his Hatz book. I guarantee I could poll a thousand people in my neighborhood with a good chance of not finding a single one of them that had the slightest fucking idea of what a Hatz is (I'da been one of them a few months ago). But I'll bet you anything that Mac's book will sell out to the cognoscenti. It will be the springboard to his eventual success as a novelist, the all-important foot in the door.
      The didactic nature of my work is completely intentional. It is, at heart, political and social commentary. It's an extended metaphor and something of a thought-experiment. Not all of that is apparent at first glance, and much of it hasn't been fully developed yet, but I'm deliberately trying to make some points.
      There has been a great deal of literature in a similar vein, from Jonathan Swift to — well, I don't know — someone contemporary. Like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. It wasn't just about a couple of people floating down the Mississippi on a raft. You can get all fucked up and twisted over 'hidden meanings' to books, but I think that a core message or set of values or cultural self-examination gives an edge to a book. You have to, as an author, actually think about what it is that you're writing. This type of thoughtful design is made manifest in the finished product in the same way as a finely developed backstory, lending substance and weight to what otherwise is silly, fun stuff.
      I think I was knocked out by my latest obsession [Kiki's Delivery Service] primarily because it addressed a lot more than was evident on the surface — that there was something subtle going on underneath. I sometimes find this kind of thing in the most unlikely places, and it's exciting to me when I do.
      The whole Tolkein phenomonon was a reaction to the idea that a fairy story could have some depth. Old JRR took somehing like fourteen years to write the whole thing, and spent a lot more time writing about it (to guys like C.S. Lewis) than he did actually writing it. Talk about pretentious — and he certainly didn't 'dumb down' to reach a mass audience. The masses found him, mostly by word of mouth over many years. The aftermath spawned thousands of cheap imitations — very few of which touched the solid basis of carefully thought-out theological philosophy that was its underlying foundation.
      Some of his notes and correspondence on just such matters were published by his son, Christopher (I read through it recently and it's very obtuse). If most people who read the trilogy had had to endure this stuff beforehand — or even was aware of it — I think they would have avoided Hobbits altogether. Yet without this kind of thing upon which to build a world, it would have been trifling and empty.
      I'm not comparing myself to Swift, Twain and Tolkein. But why not follow good examples?
      See, this is the kind of stuff the Cryptoaliens were looking for in a native guide…

      Damnright. Makes perfect sense. Why get some half-assed, semiliterate native when you can get a wordy one?
      Fact is, Toomey, that your use of words not in common usage doesn't usually look contrived and most people won't have to interrupt reading the story to find a dictionary because the immediate context supports the word well enough to infer meaning. That is where the pretentious tend to fail.

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© Patrick Hill, 2000