Monday, January 10, 2011

God Authors, and Why I Don't Have One

I went to the symphony yesterday, because I figured I wouldn't get many chances to hear Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 performed live and it is, after all, one of the greatest works of classical music ever. Not only was it well worth the money I paid, but it also got me thinking about degrees of inspiration. I've touched on my love of music before, as well as my writing influences, but I promise this post'll be different.

You see, I had moment after moment after moment in the concert hall where I was awed by the intricacies of the music and blown away that one man could have written what I was hearing and could've held it all in his head at one time. That's something I could never do, because I don't have nearly as much musical talent as Beethoven did. There's such a sense of life in his music—love and rage and joy and fear and grief and playfulness, all painted so well by sound that listeners feel it, get swept away by it, lifted up and out of themselves for however long the music lasts. Dang, but I want to write music that well. Beethoven is a god.

After one of those awed moments—I think it was during Symphony No. 9, Mvmt. 1—I realized that I can't think of any writers who inspire the same feeling, the same passion. I have favourite authors. There are writers who have a particular strength that I would love to share, who write at a level I'd like to reach someday. But there are no writers whose entire canon I love unconditionally, the way I love Beethoven's. Bujold, who is incredible at plots and characterization and dialogue, has written stories that didn't grab me. Gaiman, who's got a fantastic handle of creepiness and modernizes fairy tales like nobody's business, has written stories that, and I hope I don't lose readers for saying this, wouldn't have been published if his name wasn't on them. Both these authors are people whose books I'm collecting. I love them, but I don't love them.

To me, reading Bujold and Gaiman (and the other people I admire and read voraciously) is the same as listening to Vivaldi or Handel or Mozart. There are works that shine, that sparkle, that I can experience over and over and get the same passion out of each time. There are works that fizzle for me, though they're still well-crafted. They lack that je ne sais quoi.

I don't know what it says about me that I have a God Composer but I don't have a God Author. Am I more critical of writers, because I'm more in tune with what makes for good writing? Am I trying to humanize these giants, so that the level of their pedestals becomes attainable? Am I more prepared to be rational and weigh pros and cons when discussing literature because I want the same rational approach directed towards my work once I'm published? I'd also propose the theory that I'm emotionally dead inside when it comes to creative works, but that would be fallacious because I've read books and heard music that has moved me greatly.

I gather that it's different for other people. I've read writing advice and listened to people talking about how to deal with wanting to write at the level of Author X right now, and how inspirational reading a great author can be. I know of people, friends even, who will not hear a single negative word spoken against their favourite author without rising up in defense. This makes me think that somewhere out there, there is a God Author for me, and if I read enough books, someday I'll find them. But I want so much to weigh things, to point out the bad along with the good, to be critical in an English class kind of way, that I suspect that author doesn't exist. How am I going to improve my writing if I don't keep the habit of identifying when writing doesn't sparkle for me?

Or maybe it's a different outlook on the world? I've definitely hit the stage in my life where I know I can't be exactly like someone else, that I can be just as good as them without being them. I've also learned that quality takes time and effort, and that perfection is an illusion. I can thank the School of Hard Knocks for that, as well as the School of Soul-Searching Introversion. So I can want traits of Author X (and Y and Z and…) without wanting to be them in their entirety, and I can let myself get carried away by their books and then step back later and say, "Great story, but Chapter 16 wasn't so hot and there was a weird bit of dialogue on page 47. I think the beats were off." But I will never have the desire to have written that book instead of them, and I will never have the desire to make their voice my own. And I'm completely okay with this because I'm as secure in my sense of self as I think any writer can be.

I'd love to hear stories from the other side of the fence, though. Folks with God Authors, care to weigh in? How do you feel when you read them? Is it possible to have a God Author while still being critical of their work? How did you discover they were a God Author? Or is the God Author thing not exactly right, and it's really God Books? Because God Books I do have. Definitely. (A post for another day, I think.)


Brooke Johnson said...

you aren't alone Anassa. I don't have a God Author either. However, I do have a God Composer -- Joe Hisaishi.

I definitely have favorite authors -- Diana Wynne Jones, for example -- but by all means, she isn't a goddess. There are things she has written that I don't like as well as others, but she did write my favorite book of all time, too.

I'm not sure if this is because of the critical eye we're trained to have as writers, or not, but there isn't a single writer that I can get behind 100%. Like you, I do have God Books.

Maybe someone else can enlighten us to this God Author phenomenon.

Annikka Woods said...

I don't have a God Author either. I have authors who inspired me, and tugged me in different directions with my own writing. I have authors who continue to inspire me with their tenacity. I have authors whose books I will pick up to read over and over again. But it's not the's their characters, their worlds.

Hannah said...

I'm not sure the idea of a God Author is exactly the right way to think about it. I certainly have authors who I adore, and whose work I passionately love, and while I may like some books more than others, there are authors whose work I think is consistently great. So I would consider myself to have a whole bunch of God Authors, and I keep learning of more and more. But I don't think I could reduce it to a single author who I think is the perfection of writing, or anything like that.

But I don't have God Composers, either. I love Beethoven, but there are works of his I like better and worse. And there are brilliant musical developments he never understood or anticipated, so even if I don't see his work as having problems or things I don't like, I can't call it perfect or complete because I know of other composers who reached a different type of musical beauty that Beethoven doesn't touch.

So I think, at least for me, it's less a question of music vs. authors vs. other arts making the difference, and more a question of having a lot of favorites and recognizing the good things they all bring. Interesting question!

Diandra said...

I didn't even know the concept of a "God author". Seems I don't have one, either. I mean, I want to be Neil Gaiman when I grow up (minus the hair), but... ^^

It's a good thing not to like everything an author does, especially when one is an author. I guess otherwise one would end up copying that "one and only" author and not find one's one voice.

(Strange thing is, there are authors where I love the way they write, but hate the stories.)

Ruth said...

I don't have a god author, though Gaiman & Bujold come very close in my book. I think music is processed differently in our brains and maybe that's why it's easier to have a god musician. Though if I wrote music, I might have a different take on it.

Anassa said...

Thanks for weighing in, everyone! It's good to know I'm not alone in having favourite authors, and inspiring authors, but no Gods.

Annikka - I definitely agree about the worlds. They're the true reason I read the books I do, though of course I'm much more likely to read something from an author who's consistently given me good worlds and characters.

Hannah - You've got a point, that a writer can have a whole pantheon of Fave/God authors. For me, there's nobody that's been quite consistent enough to graduate from Fave to God, but I can certainly see that others won't have the same critical criteria as I do.

I think it's unfair to say that because someone like Beethoven didn't foresee a development, they aren't perfect, or that because there are different sorts of musical beauty, we shouldn't love any composer over any other. The way I see things, writers and composers can't be compared to future developments, and shouldn't really be detracted from due to the presence of different traditions. With the backgrounds they have, the work they produce will only be one way, and to achieve "perfection" in that one way is the most anyone can hope for. (Probably not making myself quite as clear as I want to there, but I hope you get the idea.)

Diandra - I'd love to grow up to be Neil Gaiman minus the hair! Or more specifically, I want his mastery of prose, his popularity, and his grace when dealing with the world. Someday…

Ruth - Agreed. Gaiman and Bujold (and Pratchett) come very close in my book as well. :) Point about music being processed differently. I think it gets routed to more "primitive" areas, where words have to be processed on a higher level before the emotions come through. I might have a different take on it too, if I wrote music. Alas, I just play it.