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The Wrong Person to Ask

You know that saying that there is no such thing as a Stupid Question?

I'm not sure I buy it.

I mean, its a nice thing for teachers to say, or other people who's livlihood depends on stupid questions continuing to be asked.  But, I'm pretty sure I've heard a stupid question. Quite a few of them actually.

And then there are questions that are just wrong- not morally wrong, but just the wrong questions to ask.   Like when someone asks a writer, "Where do you get your ideas?"  Just a heads up; writers hate that question.  It's like being asking "Where do you get air?"   If you are a writer, ideas are everywhere.  They bombard you wherever you go, assault you even.  They take over your mind and demand that you write about them.  And then when you start to obey, other ideas come along and hi-jack those ideas.  That is why the typical writerly response to the "ideas" question is a blank stare.  Wrong question.  How about, "Has there ever been a point in the universe from which ideas did not flow?"  Oh, and by the way, the answer to that is, "No".  

And then there is a third category of questions- the questions directed at the wrong people.  I experienced a doozy one of those the other day.

After ConScription, I was getting a ride to the airport with the guy who owned  the backpackers I'd stayed at.  His name was Scott and he knew that I was a fantasy/sci-fi writer who had been attending a fantasy/sci-fi convention.  We were chatting about the Con, the workshops, etc. and out of the blue he said, "So I'm worried about my nineteen-year-old son."

"What has you worried?"  I asked.

"Well he loves to read.  He devours books, in fact.  But every since he read the Harry Potter series as a boy, that's the only sort of thing he'll read.  I was wondering if you could tell me when my son will grow out of reading Fantasy."  

And I said, "I'm afraid you've asked the wrong person that question.  You see, I am forty and I still haven't grown out of reading fantasy.  In fact, my whole livelihood sort of depends on the hope that people don't grow out of reading fantasy.  What is it about fantasy that you consider juvenile?"

"Well, it doesn't teach you anything about 'real life'?" he insisted.  "Not like the great biographies, the philosophers and thinkers.  My son is going to grow up thinking everything can be fixed with the wave of a wand."  

"So you like to read non-fiction?  You like to read philosophy to find your truth, and your son finds his truth in Fantasy."  

"Truth?  What truth is there in Fantasy?"  he asked scowling.  

You know that saying, there is no such thing as a Stupid Question.

Naw, I don't buy it. 




( 32 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:46 pm (UTC)
I wish I could find Asimov's famous poem, "I just make 'em up, see" about where he gets his ideas from. And, of course, there's the idea of the month club, whereby writers get the ideas sent to them. How do they qualify to join? Well, they have to write stories ...

Your conversation with Scott reminds me of a strange one I had with a mum recently.

She saw that I had been reading a book. After we had been chatting a while she said, "Are you, like, eccentric?" I looked at her, wondering whether I should feel flattered. "Like, do you read?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"Yes. My husband's eccentric too. He reads all the time."


Jun. 6th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
that is so weird. Eccentric=literate? Was she blonde? Hehe.
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:51 pm (UTC)
I think the one thing non-writers don't understand is that we writers have TOO MANY ideas for stories. Not enough time to write them all.

And that guy was an obvious fucking idiot. World's full of them, too.
Jun. 6th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
I don't think of him in those strong of terms. However, I do feel sad that his mind isn't very open to mystery and who his son is becoming.
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Weird I never thought it was considered juvenile... but then my parents have piles of books that were fantasy as well and historical at least in addition to literature... though I don't read fantasy myself as I don't understand it... and so much regular fiction is fantasy anyway, Salman Rushdie is often fantasy for example
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
have to say I like the ideas question though as I'm not imaginative and don't have ideas, it gives me a chance to say "this idea came from THIS PERSON who let me use it"
(no subject) - green_knight - Jun. 5th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rippatton - Jun. 6th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - green_knight - Jun. 6th, 2009 08:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rippatton - Jun. 6th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 4th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
Is "where did the idea for 'xxxxx' come from?" a stupid question?

Jun. 6th, 2009 02:47 am (UTC)
Good question:) Hehe. No, in my opinion, a questions about a specific story idea is pretty fun to answer.
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:09 am (UTC)
Additionally, there's a multi-billion dollar industry selling fantasy to people (I include film and TV and other media here too) which means that there are an awful lot of consumers of same. There's not a lot of people going around trying to solve all life's problems by ineffectually waving wands at them.
Somewhere along the line, most of these consumers of fantasy must end up living sufficiently functional lives in order to support the habit - and it's likely that his son will end up one of them.
Jun. 6th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)
Good point.

But damn a problem-solving wand sure would come in handy.
(no subject) - dianavilliers - Jun. 6th, 2009 09:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rippatton - Jun. 6th, 2009 09:39 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
In Steinbeck's words, "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

My only problem is that there's a hole in the hutch, so they keep escaping.
Jun. 6th, 2009 02:43 am (UTC)
Silly wabbits:)
(no subject) - punktortoise - Jun. 6th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
Well, since I'm not a published writer no one asks me any questions about writing. But just for when they do start can I get in some practice here?

"Where do you get your ideas?"

--I have them on lay-away at K-Mart.

--The tooth fairy. She leaves me ideas instead of quarters.

--You heard of Netflix? Well there's another company called Ideas-R-Us. If you don't like the idea, you just mail it back to them.

Well, that's a start ;)
Jun. 5th, 2009 07:03 am (UTC)
What they really mean, of course, is that often it is more stupid to not ask when you don't know the answer!

But that isn't reassuring enough to get people over their fear of asking.
Jun. 5th, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
This should answer the 'ideas' question...

And I would agree that 'What truth is there in fiction' is a stupid question, because it engages with the reader's concept (it's all just made up) rather than the actual books.
Jun. 6th, 2009 01:34 am (UTC)
JUST made up? Hmmm. "Just" being a diminutive word- a less than non-fiction word? I can't agree with a "just" attitude toward fiction. However, I think you make a great point in that readers bring their own truth to whatever they read. I think fiction is more interactive than non-fiction in that aspect. Non-fiction says "This is what happened." Fiction asks, "If this happened, what would it mean?"
(no subject) - green_knight - Jun. 6th, 2009 08:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rippatton - Jun. 6th, 2009 09:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 5th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
Someone once asked me, "Where do you get your ideas for your photographs?"

I figure that's a related question to yours, about ideas.

I told him I've got a subscription to Ideas Quarterly.

I can be less than polite sometimes.
Jun. 5th, 2009 08:34 pm (UTC)
I, too, subscribe to Ideas Quarterly. It's been a big help. But I've heard a rumour that the magazine is to fold, since the staff have all run out of new ideas.

If this is true, it's a big problem for anyone working in a creative endeavour. But how to solve it? I have no idea.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 6th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)
Fiction is a way of telling the truth no one wants to hear, but in a way that they can't help but listen to:)
(no subject) - green_knight - Jun. 6th, 2009 08:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 9th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
Hello, happened to stumble upon this post. I must say, I agree with you plenty, especially with regards to fantasy.

Moreover, I currently study Literature in college. There, I have encountered a work of Sigmund Freud's--the name of which escapes me at the moment--that argues in favor of fantasy. I'll elaborate the main point: fantasy is still grounded in reality. It is a different version of reality, yes, but it is based on reality all the same. Bah, I could go on a long tirade about how relevant fiction and fantasy is, and what their role is in literature, and damn it all if they be forgotten just because people can't think beyond what they see.

Yeah...anyway, as a fellow fantasy fan, I salute you.
Feb. 10th, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
Thanks for the salute.

You bring up an interesting tension between fantasy and sci-fi. Science (and often sci-fi) is very much about material reality (what the laws and rules of physics could do someday), whereas fantasy is more about internal reality- or trips of the psyche, as I like to call them.

They both have value, but I know which I prefer.

Thanks for you comment.
( 32 comments — Leave a comment )


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