The great part of blogging here on the second Monday of each cycle, pretty much right in the middle, is that usually I can see enough of what others have posted to get a good idea of the shape the conversation is taking, and still see enough unexplored options that I can find something new to say. But this theme, “deceit,” has me stymied. Fiction’s natural role as deception of sorts has been well-covered, and so has the use of pseudonyms, while self-deceit and flamboyantly deceitful identity-revelation have been done in awe-inspiring detail.
I could go with truthful confessions of deceit on my part, but I won’t. What's so bad about deceit, at least some kinds? Don’t we all have secrets we only reveal to those with a valid need to know, or to no one at all? Is it deceit when you simply don’t spill every last detail of your life? Or when you’re selective about who you tell what? Does it make a difference when, as a writer, you’re in some sense a “public” figure, even when your public is limited to a small circle of readers (and other writers if you’re also an editor) with, of course, exceptionally good taste in literature? Maybe it is. I resorted to looking up definitions of deceit: “The action or practice of deceiving someone by concealing or misrepresenting the truth.” “a statement or act that is meant to fool or trick someone. The quality of being dishonest.” I suppose “concealing” could apply to simply not telling all.
I do, in fact, tell pretty much all, just not to everyone. Some of my publishers have known, for instance, my age, and some, who I suspect would take it negatively, don’t, even if they’ve met me. Sometimes it’s kind of fun to play the age card to startle folks; at one of my first readings in New York, for one edition or another of Best Lesbian Erotica, I announced that I was there to confirm that there is life after fifty. That got a laugh and applause; I was tempted to go on and say, “and life after sixty, too,” but I wasn’t quite there yet, so I refrained. That was quite a while ago. I do enjoy subverting expectations by reading my explicit erotica to kids who think their own generation invented sex—haven’t they ever heard of the 1960s? We invented sex back then!
Anyway, back to definitions. I also looked up the word “conceit,” which I recalled having a meaning beyond the usual one of an inflated sense of self-worth, one not all that far off from “deceit.” How about “a fanciful expression in writing or speech; an elaborate metaphor.” “A fanciful idea.” That’s pretty close to fiction, right? Fiction as deceit has been mentioned before, but let’s play with that connection a bit more.
“A fanciful idea” is, essentially, imagination, and what could be more essential to fiction? And for some types of fiction, that “conceit” absolutely requires “deceit.” Mystery stories come first to mind. It may be possible to have a good mystery story where the reader is told everything at every stage, but it’s rare. In many if not most kinds of stories, not just mysteries, some level of deception of the reader is vital, because without such deception, how can there be discovery? Erotica isn’t as reliant on the deception/discovery model, but it can certainly be used in erotic stories. Romance tends to be heavy on it, sometimes too heavy. Plots that use too much in the way of deceptions, or characters concealing things that lead to misunderstandings in order to justify keeping the lovers apart long enough to make a novel-length story, tend to give the romance genre a bad name. Not that it seems to affect sales of such books, so who am I to complain?
I guess I can’t complain about having nothing to say about deceit, either. I was thinking of resorting to riffing on the pseudonym thing, too, but it's late, and I'm tired. Maybe I'll do that in a comment instead. Or maybe I've already done it here and there on other posts from time to time. Let's just say my decision to use a pen name for erotica was meant only to deceive underage minds, and sometimes that's not such a bad idea.